Rendition: Those liars and their lies in full.
Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.
-- Oral evidence given by Jack Straw to the Foreign Affairs committee on 13th of December 2005.
I, I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all, and I'm not going to start ordering inquires into this, that and the next thing when I've got no evidence to show whether this is right or not - and I honestly, and you know, it's like all this stuff about camps in Europe or something - I don't know, I've never heard of such a thing.
I can't tell you whether such a thing exists - because, er - I don't know.
-- Tony Blair speaking at his press conference on the 21st of December 2005.
We already knew that those camps that Tony Blair had "never heard of" existed, as George Bush was forced into admitting they did. Don't worry though, everyone in them was treated humanely, and they certainly weren't tortured.
The most curious thing about the whole rendition scandal is that the same government which didn't know anything about the CIA's fleet of planes and the ghost prisons across the globe, and hence, you would think, has then got nothing to hide, has been so determined to push the debate forward, as outlined in the leaked New Statesman memo. For a government that always dismisses civil liberties concerns with the old adage that "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear", it's odd that government ministers and advisers have been so thoroughly uncooperative with the EU investigation into rendition. If they didn't know anything, why would they do everything they possible could to obstruct and filibuster the Europe-wide inquiry?
The reason, as you've already guessed, is that the government is actually up to its neck in the scandal, as the draft EU report makes clear. Not only have there been another 100 flights linked conclusively to the rendition program which landed in the UK, but the report, drawn up by the Italian socialist MEP Giovanni Claudio Fava, who has received death threats for his trouble, also finds that the government did in fact know full well about the visits by our friends in the CIA. As well as lying about this, they then set out to do everything they could to both play down and ignore the questions asked of them by the committee set up by the EU.
Geoff Hoon, the hapless and hopeless Europe minister, is singled out for the strongest criticism after he adopted the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" approach when questioned by the committee. Sir Michael Wood, legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who you might remember from the Craig Murray documents, repeated the same assertion he made there, that information obtained through torture, as long as there was no "direct" involvement in the torture involved, was not illegal under international law. The "information" discussed in those documents was from the Uzbek security services, who among other methods, have been known to rape men and women with glass bottles in order to obtain confessions. The US State Department website page on Uzbekistan admits that "the police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique." That gives an insight into the mindset of those drawing up their considered legal opinions; they know full well how the information they receive is gotten, yet when it comes for them to give evidence to committees set up to investigate the kidnapping of European citizens, who are then taking to "black holes" and tortured, they refuse to even justify their opinions to them.
Perhaps most shocking, or perversely, actually predictably discomforting, is that the denial and no comment policy was adopted across the whole of the EU, making the whole organisation complicit. Nato's chief executive refused to give evidence. The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was also criticised for his lack of cooperation with the committee. The only conclusion that conceivably be came to is that the governments and their security services honestly thought that they would get away with it. One of the justifications used by Condoleezza Rice was that the United States had been "rendering" prisoners for decades, which is true, but not on anywhere near the scale as in the last five years, and neither had they then been tortured with the help of friendly foreign security services.
Whether the government's arrogance was down to the belief that anything can now be justified in the war on terror, or simply due to the belief that the CIA had covered their trails well enough doesn't really matter. After the system was exposed, instead of admitting to their role in allowing those kidnapped to be rendered, with CIA planes refueling in Britain, they instead denied all knowledge, and continue to deny all knowledge. Rather than condemning a practice that is clearly contrary to international law, they've simply said that they don't approve of it. Instead of investigations, we've had lies. This ought to be a front page reaching scandal. Ministers should be resigning. The sad fact is that in five short years, Britain has moved from laughably championing the benefits of an "ethical foreign policy" to turning a blind eye while men such as Binyam Mohammad endured "horrific torture" by proxy, with our own security services supplying information to "help". While those accused of being terrorists rot in Guantanamo Bay, the head of MI5 makes speeches about the terrorist threat that we've helped create, and like her colleagues refuses to give evidence to investigatory committees. Worst of all, we're letting them get away it.