Meeting at British embassy in US raises questions about repeated denials by MI5 and MI6 of connivance in torture
Within days of the 9/11 attacks on the US, the CIA told British intelligence officers of its plans to abduct al-Qaida suspects and fly them to secret prisons where they would be systematically abused.
The meeting, at the British embassy in Washington, is disclosed in a forthcoming book by the Guardian journalist Ian Cobain. It raises serious questions about repeated claims by senior MI5 and MI6 officers that they were slow to appreciate the US response to the attacks, and never connived in torture.
The meeting signalled to British officials that the US was preparing to embark on a global kidnapping programme which became known as extraordinary rendition. Cobain reveals that at the end of a three-hour presentation by Cofer Black, President George Bush’s top counter-terrorist adviser, Mark Allen – his opposite number in MI6 – commented that it all sounded “rather bloodcurdling”.
A few weeks later, in early October 2001, at a secret meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels, US officials drew up a list of “necessary measures to increase security”, Cobain discloses. They included flights to and from secret prisons in Asia, Africa, and throughout Europe. “Quietly, Britain pledged logistics support for the rendition programme, which resulted in the CIA’s Gulfstream V and other jets becoming frequent visitors to British airports en route to the agency’s secret prisons,” writes Cobain.
Over the next four years CIA rendition flights used British airports at least 210 times. The book reveals that Washington asked the UK for permission to build a large prison on Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean where the US has a large bomber base. The project was dropped, for logistical rather than legal reasons.
However, Diego Garcia was used as a stopover for CIA flights taking detainees to secret prisons around the world. And in secret memos, Labour ministers said in early 2002 that their “preferred option” was to render British nationals to Guantánamo Bay, Cobain records. MI5 and MI6 officers carried out around 100 interrogations at the US prison on Cuba between 2002 and 2004.
Yet for years ministers emphatically denied any British involvement in America’s rendition programme. As late as December 2005, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, was telling MPs there was “simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition”. Just a year earlier, we now know, MI6 – under Straw’s watch and with the blessing of ministers, officials say – helped to render two leading Libyan dissidents to Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
Despite the post-9/11 Washington embassy and Nato meetings, and other evidence of their early involvement in rendition, MI5 and MI6 witnesses told the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) that it was some time before they knew what the US was up to. As late as July 2007, the misinformed ISC stated in a report on rendition that MI5 and MI6 “were … slow to detect the emerging pattern of renditions to detention”.
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 October 2012 13.06 BST
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