Britain admits rendition of prisoners from Iraq

LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain’s defence minister made  an unusual public apology yesterday, admitting Britain had  taken part in the “rendition” of suspects detained in Iraq after  denying it for years.

In a lengthy statement to parliament, Defence Secretary John  Hutton confirmed that Britain handed over two suspects captured  in Iraq in 2004 to U.S. custody and that they were subsequently  transferred to Afghanistan, breaching U.S.-British agreements.

The Ministry of Defence has been repeatedly asked over the  past five years about its involvement in rendition, the unlawful  transfer of suspects to a third country, and consistently denied  it played any role in the U.S.-administered programme.

John  Hutton
John Hutton

“I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information  on this particular issue has been given to the House by my  department on a small number of occasions,” Hutton said. “I want  to apologise to the House for these errors.”

Two men seized by British troops in Iraq in February 2004  were transferred to U.S. detention and later flown to  Afghanistan, where they remain in U.S. custody. Both are said to  be members of Laskhar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group with links  to al Qaeda.

Human rights groups said Hutton’s admission amounted to a  “major U-turn” that called into question the government’s  previous denials and whether its position now was believable.

“For years now the British government has been tossing us  miserable scraps of information about its involvement in illegal  renditions in Pakistan, Diego Garcia and now Afghanistan,” said  Clara Gutteridge, an investigator with Reprieve, a charity that  campaigns for the release of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

“Enough is enough. The British government must come clean  and reveal exactly who it has captured, what has been done to  them and where they are now,” she said. “I’m afraid this is only  the tip of the renditions iceberg.”
Hutton said the United States had provided assurances that  the suspects, who are categorised as “unlawful enemy  combatants”, were being properly treated in Afghanistan.

Asked about the legal implications of Hutton’s apology, a  spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said there was nothing  illegal about Britain’s involvement in the rendition process.

The Americans, he said, had breached a long-standing  agreement that those captured by British forces in Iraq would  not be transferred out of Iraq without prior consultation.

“We are all equally culpable in this,” he said.
However, human rights lawyers and members of parliament  suggested the Ministry of Defence was trying to play down the  extent of the problem, and said there were no guarantees that  Britain had not been complicit in illegal renditions.

Extraordinary rendition, which involves transferring  suspects to a third country where there is no prohibition on the  use of torture during interrogation, goes a step further than  rendition and is considered illegal by Britain.

Andrew Tyrie, an MP looking into extraordinary rendition,  said it was time the government held a full inquiry.
“U.S. assurances that it does not use torture are  unreliable,” he said. “Given that all previous assurances have  been baseless, we can have no confidence in the ones we are  being given now.”

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