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Labour is still lying about extraordinary rendition flights

This article is over 15 years, 9 months old
The British government still won’t come clean on the full scale of its involvement with the CIA’s programme of torture flights and secret prisons, argues Simon Basketter
Issue 2090

The Labour government is still lying over its complicity in the use of kidnapping and torture in the “war on terror”.

Foreign secretary David Miliband told parliament last Thursday that the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean had been used to refuel two so called “rendition” flights.

The people of Diego Garcia were expelled when the island was leased to the US in the 1960s. It is, however, still a British territory.

Miliband said he was “very sorry indeed” to have to correct previous statements made by Tony Blair and Jack Straw in 2005, 2006 and 2007 denying rendition flights had landed on British territory.

He claimed the cases involving Diego Garcia had not been disclosed before due to an “error’’ in an earlier US records search.

He is lying. In fact, the British-controlled island plays a critical role in the CIA’s secret prisons.

Rather than two, there have been hundreds of secret rendition flights using British airports. Countless numbers have gone through Diego Garcia. But the island itself is also host to a CIA prison.

Intelligence from the Council of Europe confirmed last year the existence of those flights and identified the covert CIA prison on Diego Garcia.

On 5 December 2006, US general Barry McCaffrey said of suspected terrorists, “They’re behind bars, they’re dead, they’re apprehended. We’ve got them on Diego Garcia, in Bagram air field, in Guantanamo.”

In May 2004, he said, “We‘re probably holding around 3,000 people, you know, Bagram air field, Diego Garcia, Guantanamo, and 16 camps throughout Iraq.”

The Council of Europe report included testimonies from more than 30 serving and former members of intelligence services in the US and Europe.

It established that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, Nato had signed an agreement allowing the CIA’s civilian jets into member states’ airspace.

“We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA’s illegal activities on their territories,” says Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who issued the council’s report.


In fact, a plane used by the CIA for rendition landed at an RAF airstrip as recently as last week. A Gulfstream IV jet, identified by Amnesty International as a plane used in rendition flights, landed at RAF Northolt in west London.

The jet, registration N134BR, flew from Morristown, New Jersey, to Britain. It landed on Wednesday and returned on Friday. It was also at Luton airport in January.

In January 2006, the then foreign secretary Jack Straw said, “The US would not render a detainee through UK territory or airspace without our permission.”

While a number of countries including Poland and Romania have run secret torture prisons for the CIA, most have eventually got cold feet and closed them.

The exception seems to be Britain, whose government simply denies their existence.

The CIA, on the orders of George Bush’s administration, used a fleet of executive jets to secretly transport prisoners around the globe.

Some prisoners have gone to the CIA’s secret facilities like the one in Diego Garcia. Many more have gone to prisons in the Middle East and central Asia, where repressive governments have tortured them on behalf of the US.

Stephen Grey is the author of the book Ghost Plane which brought the issue of “extraordinary rendition” to public light. He said, “These high-value detainees disappeared into what came to be known as ‘black sites’.

“These were true ghost prisoners, undeclared to the Red Cross, and held in some cases for years without any outside communication, even with their families.

“It was also used to send people to places where there weren’t even any charges against them. It was used to take people off the streets who were considered a threat.


“They were sent to countries where they had no connections at all. We’ve got an Egyptian citizen sent to Libya. We’ve got Ethiopian citizens sent to Morocco.

“There are hundreds of people that were captured in Afghanistan that were not sent to Guantanamo. They were sent elsewhere – either held within Afghanistan or sent to other countries.

“When they say the jails are empty, it’s quite frightening, because you think where have they put all these people?”

There are at least 39 named individuals who have disappeared completely after having been rendered by the CIA.

There are hundreds more we know nothing about. In at least three occasions children under ten have been taken.

On the conditions of those who suffer rendition, the Council of Europe report noted, “Detainees went through months of solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed.

“The sound most commonly heard in cells was a constant, low level hum of white noise from loudspeakers.

“The constant noise was punctuated by blasts of loud Western music – rock music, rap music and thumping beats, or distorted verses from the Koran, or irritating noises – thunder, planes taking off, cackling laughter, the screams of women and children.”

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