I shall give the Minister a second to settle in. I gather that he has just got back from Washington, so I am very grateful that he is here. I am not a human rights expert or a lawyer; I am a libertarian, and that is where my interest in this subject stems from. When I first got into Parliament, a decade ago, it never crossed my mind that I would ask for a debate on this issue, but then it never crossed my mind that Britain's leading ally, probably with the complicity of many western powers, including, perhaps, Britain, would develop a global programme of kidnap and torture. If someone had told me in 1997 that within a few years the United States would be arranging the torture of people and imprisoning large numbers of them in an illegal, offshore black hole for years on end, I simply would not have believed them.
It was Guantánamo that first led me to look into rendition. As a consequence of tabling many parliamentary questions to try to establish the limit of Britain's involvement in Guantánamo, the practice of extraordinary rendition was brought to my attention—first, as a consequence of some remarks made to me by a high-quality investigative journalist, Stephen Grey, who has since written a book on the subject. Shortly afterwards, the practice was again brought to my attention by an official who must remain anonymous.
Before I go any further, I must define some terms. What is extraordinary rendition? Rendition generally means the transfer of someone from one country to another outside all judicial or administrative due process. In that sense, it is not new: it has been practised and will continue to be practised between countries that do not have extradition agreements to cover such cases. Neither is it always wrong—Carlos the Jackal was rendered. Historically, many such renditions could be considered renditions to justice, as they enabled someone to be brought before a court. A uniquely pernicious aspect of the recent renditions, often called extraordinary renditions, is that their primary purpose is to keep those who are being transferred from justice. Worse still, a further purpose in many cases appears to have been to transfer those people to a place where they can be tortured.
I was pleased to accompany the hon. Gentleman to Washington and New York, last December, to meet several Administration officials and others to discuss these very issues. Does he agree that apart from extraordinary renditions being morally wrong, they are wholly counter-productive given the efforts of this country and others to tackle global terrorism?
I completely agree; indeed, it was a central point that we both made to a number of people in the US Administration and on Capitol Hill, where we found wide agreement right across the party political spectrum—contrary to the impression that one might gain from UK press reports.
On the basis of extensive evidence, albeit much of anecdotal, it seems that many people—possibly several hundred—have been kidnapped in this way and taken to countries such as Syria, Egypt and Morocco, where a number of them have been horrifically tortured. That has all been planned and implemented by US personnel with assistance from several western and middle-eastern allies. I have been appalled by what I have uncovered in the past few years.
In December 2005, I set up the all-party group on extraordinary rendition with the help of Mr. Mullin and Sir Menzies Campbell, who was subsequently replaced when he was elevated to his current position, by Norman Lamb. We have had three main objectives throughout, the first of which is to bring these disgusting practices to wider public attention. The second is to do whatever we can to ensure that the UK is not involved in rendition. The third is to do what we can, however little, to persuade the US Administration to desist from the practice.
We have gathered a lot of information in support of the first objective. We have taken evidence from many lawyers who represent detainees who have been rendered, and from their relatives. Some of the accounts of their treatment are truly horrific. I do not intend to go through them all in detail, but it is important that people get a grasp of the scale of the problem. When one hears credible accounts of a British resident begging for mercy as his penis is cut with a razor, one gets a sense of what the innocuous phrase "extraordinary rendition" really means. An unnamed CIA operative was quoted in The Washington Post as saying:
"We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them."
With others, the all-party group has given greater public prominence to what has been going on, and we have tried to bring pressure to bear on several specific cases, including those of Benyam Mohammed and Bisher al-Rawi. Several MPs, some of whom might speak today, have worked tirelessly for the families of people who have been rendered, and I congratulate them on their work.
On the second objective—UK involvement—despite numerous requests from me and others, we have been unable to persuade the Government to condemn extraordinary rendition. In like fashion, the Government refused to condemn Guantánamo for years, but finally did so in 2006 as a consequence of pressure from the Law Officers. I do not want to live in a country whose Government choke at condemning kidnap and torture.
May I challenge that? I think that I was the first Minister to condemn Guantánamo Bay in the Chamber of the House of Commons, and I cannot recall ever in my career in this place any Law Officer putting pressure on me about anything. I did it for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given: because it is counter-productive to the fight against terrorism. I am sure that many of our colleagues in this House would condemn it for the very same reasons.
I cannot remember any Law Officers' speeches. There might have been some, but I was not made aware of them. I made my speech of my own volition.
I note the sense of joined-up government that that reply implies.
In at least one case, that of Bisher al-Rawi, the UK security authorities appear to have been directly implicated in rendition. That case has yet to be investigated properly. I shall say more on UK involvement later but, first, I shall return to what I was saying about trying to persuade the US on this subject. As the hon. Member for North Norfolk pointed out, we went to Washington, with Mark Pallis, who is an extremely knowledgeable legal adviser to the all-party group, and met Condoleezza Rice's chief legal counsel, John Bellinger, and many other people in the National Security Council and on Capitol Hill. I was heartened that so many of those people find this practice as repugnant as we do. Indeed, a good number of them agreed with what the Minister just said, that Guantánamo Bay is counter-productive, and were prepared to tell us privately that they think that rendition is as well.
It is important to understand that rendition has not come as a bolt from the blue, but is part of a revolution in US foreign policy under George Bush that has made the whole of the west less secure. I shall say a few words on that subject at the end of my speech if I have time.
When I first expressed concern about the issue in the autumn of 2005, I was repeatedly challenged to provide evidence; by implication, the challenges suggested that there was no evidence and that the matter had been got up by a press brouhaha. Much remains to come out, but the existence of the practice whereby people have been kidnapped and taken to places where they may be tortured has now been confirmed by President George Bush, Condoleeza Rice and numerous CIA officers.
That comes on top of overwhelming evidence from a number of specific cases, such as those of Maher Arar. He is a Canadian who was detained in New York before being sent to Syria to be tortured. That created such a massive scandal in Canada that, after his release, the Canadian Government were forced to launch an investigation, after which they paid Canadian $10 million in damages for their complicity in his kidnap. Khaled Masri, a German citizen, was the subject of a Bundestag inquiry. He was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia and rendered to Afghanistan, where he was badly maltreated for several months in the so-called dark prison in Kabul. Abu Omar was kidnapped in Milan and transported to Egypt. His case is sub judice in Italy, I believe.
When challenged on extraordinary rendition, the US Administration qualify their admissions in several important ways. First, they challenge the allegation that they transfer people for the purpose of torture. Looked at closely, this is nothing more than legal obfuscation. The US does not want to be in breach of the UN convention on torture, which prohibits rendition
"where there are substantial grounds for believing that" a person
"would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
The Government and almost all other western signatories to the convention take that to mean "a real risk" of torture. When Ministers have written to me on the subject, they have always used that phrase. A "real risk" means a significant risk. Laymen might take that to invite the question, "Would a reasonable man take that risk if he thought that he might be tortured?", to which the answer is clearly no.
The US Administration, on the other hand, have placed a reservation on their acceptance of that part of the torture convention. They take the UN convention's stipulations to prohibit rendition only when the risk of torture is more likely than not. That is how they have got off the legal hook. They would argue that they acknowledge that there might be a risk of torture when they transport a person to Egypt, for example, but that if the risk is less than 50 per cent., they are not in breach of the convention. It is on such legal casuistries that rendition has been allowed to take root in one of the world's leading democracies.
The US Administration add a second qualification to their obligations in their definition of what constitutes acceptable treatment. It is widely documented that in extra-territorial US bases, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hypothermia and sensory deprivation have been widely used. Indeed, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 has further entrenched the legality of some of those techniques. The US Assistant Attorney-General, Jay Bybee, has further narrowed the definition of torture to mean only that which involves suffering equivalent in intensity to the pain of organ failure or death. As a Congressman has pointed out to us, both those qualifications bring shame on America and on the west.
When I ask Ministers questions about British involvement, I get the same answers in the same form of words. It is important to rehearse those once more. The Government say that they would "expect" the US authorities
"to seek permission to render detainees via UK territory and airspace (including Overseas Territories)" and that they
"will grant permission only if we are satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations".—[Hansard, 20 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 441WS.]
Privately, and sometimes publicly, members of the US Administration vigorously point out that the UK has benefited from information obtained from renditions, and suggest that we are being pussy-footed and mealy-mouthed about the whole thing. Referring to rendition and possible maltreatment, Colin Powell said on television a year and a half ago that
"most of our European friends cannot be shocked that this kind of thing takes place".
George Bush has gone further by saying that intelligence gathered from renditions has thwarted attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow airport. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm whether that is the Government's view.
How much is Britain involved? We simply do not know, and I suspect that the Minister does not know either.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on what is an important issue. Does he agree that some of our constituents are dismayed that Britain might be complicit in such atrocities? There have been many reports that airports in the UK, particularly in Scotland, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Prestwick, have been used for rendition flights. Does he agree that it would perhaps be useful for those airports to adopt anti-rendition policies similar to Derry airport's, because that would give our constituents some peace of mind that we are not partaking of this horrific activity?
I strongly agree with those sentiments. If I get the chance later, I shall talk about some of the proposals that the all-parliamentary group has put forward to tackle the problem which, incidentally, build on proposals put forward by a Minister.
I said that I did not believe that the Minister knew all the facts, and I am reasonably confident about that. I hope that the Security and Intelligence Committee may be able to delve further and to retrieve more information. More than one year ago, the all-party group vigorously pressed the Committee to initiate an inquiry. I am pleased to say that it has done so, and that it has been working on the issue for some time. I have given oral and written evidence to the inquiry, and made the latter available to the public and to the Government. The Committee's report may not be conclusive, but it will make an important contribution to finding out the truth.
Although the Committee is better than nothing, we need to bear it in mind that it is a relatively new Committee and that it is still finding its feet in difficult territory. The fact that it does not have the investigative powers of a Select Committee, still less the powers of a United States congressional committee, is a problem. Also, it reports to the Prime Minister, who may redact its conclusions. I was particularly perturbed by the Committee's recent decision to sack its investigative officer rather than replace him. A Committee without such an officer will find it more difficult to perform its function to a level at which the public will have confidence that it has got to the bottom of the issues that it investigates.
I am sure of one thing on the issue of what has really happened: it is extremely implausible that the information provided by the Government, which the Minister will no doubt rehearse, represents the full extent of our involvement. In support of that, it is worth setting out the chronology. When challenged initially, the Government said that they had no knowledge of any renditions. Later, they identified two renditions, plus a couple of applications that they refused. Still later, they identified at least one more informal request.
The Minister is welcome to intervene on that. In addition to that, there is an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence that UK airports have been used for rendition, as Jo Swinson said. The Council of Europe report provided some of the extensive circumstantial evidence on the issue.
It is hardly surprising that we have such little written information to go on, and that the Minister has so little straw with which to make bricks. In a written statement, the former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw, made it clear that what little we know has come from officials' personal recollections and that scarcely any documentation has been retained. In my view, that is wholly unacceptable.
Worse still, the Government have still not put in place a mechanism for ensuring that renditions do not take place in future. Nor have they reassured us that proper records will be kept. On the contrary, we are supposed to rely on assurances that the US Administration will make a request if they want to fly someone through the UK, and we are expected to leave it at that.
The truth—it will out, as it does in most democracies—is that the Government have almost certainly turned a blind eye to rendition. They have been determined not to allow a cigarette paper to come between them and their US ally, but Ministers are under no illusion that that is causing deep embarrassment. That was made clear in a leaked memo a little while ago, which suggested that whenever the subject is discussed the Minister concerned should do his best to move the discussion on to wider issues of UK participation in the war against terror. I do not have the leaked memo to hand, but if he wants to challenge me on it, I shall give him a quotation from it.
The UK's policy has quietly hardened, as illustrated by the tone of some written answers. The Minister will probably tell us today that those assurances will be demanded vigorously, but we cannot rely on assurances from the US Government; we need much more. With a group of leading public lawyers, including Nicholas Blake QC, Andrew Lydiard QC and Professor James Crawford, dean of the Cambridge university law school, and with the help of a number of pressure groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Liberty, as well as help from the New York university law school, we have put together a proposal to provide the public with something more reliable to give them confidence.
That proposal has been set out in documentation published by the all-party group. In summary, it says that this country must demand the basic information concerning any rendition: the destination, the legal regime that will apply when the person has been transferred, the legal safeguards that are available in that state, and evidence that the detainee was provided with an opportunity to challenge his or her transfer on the basis of his or her reasonable fear of being tortured or suffering ill treatment. It should also be a legal requirement that those requests, and the information obtained are recorded and that those records are retained. We should not have to rely on officials' anecdotal evidence from years back.
With the help of lawyers, I have examined carefully how such a measure could be brought into effect and I have been advised that it could be done by a relatively simple amendment of the Air Navigation Order 2005. Primary legislation would not be required, and I strongly urge the Minister to examine that proposal carefully.
I was heartened that the Minister told me in a letter dated
"yet to be persuaded that legislation would add real value...over and above the understandings which already exist".
He must grasp the fact that those understandings will not satisfy the public, and the reason is clear. First, there is a heap of circumstantial evidence about far more renditions than the four that the Government have been able to identify with the help of absent-minded officials. Secondly, so much material has been put before us during the past few years that public confidence has been corroded. There have been misused intelligence reports, dodgy dossiers, the suggestion that our troops could be attacked by Saddam Hussein within 45 minutes, and the Prime Minister's suggestion in the House that Saddam Hussein was within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon. All that has eroded public trust, which is now at a low ebb. Assurances will simply not be enough.
My proposal is scarcely radical, and I fear that some hon. Members on my left may suggest that it is wholly inadequate, but at least it would make it clear that reasonable steps should be taken by public authorities to establish whether a rendition is taking place, and to collect the facts about it. What is the danger to the Government of pushing through such a modest statutory instrument? I hope that such a change, or something like it, will have the support of my Front-Bench colleagues.
I have a number of specific questions about UK involvement. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me specifically whether it is now UK Government policy to oppose extraordinary rendition. Do they believe that it is morally wrong, as they now believe that Guantánamo Bay is wrong? What assessment have they made of its overall effectiveness as an anti-terrorist tool? Of course, I understand that the details of such an assessment cannot be put in the public domain, but surely some of the general conclusions should be made available in a democracy. Do the Government agree with Richard Dearlove's comments that were quoted in a recent programme and a recent journal that rendition has damaged the ability of the UK and the US to recruit high-quality spies? What is the UK's policy on the CIA's programme of so-called high-value prisoner transfers?
Do the Government believe that when a CIA chartered plane comes to the UK, it falls in the category of state aircraft for the purpose of permission, or in the category of civilian aircraft? What steps have the Government taken to check the allegations made in two of those programmes and in a book that UK intelligence personnel travelled in a number of planes that were being used for rendition?
A number of the Minister's colleagues seem to be as concerned as I am, and some have told me so privately. From time to time, the veil is lifted and they say so publicly. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Ms Harman, has demanded a radical change in the rules—more radical than I have proposed. She has highlighted a loophole in international regulations and demanded that it be closed by renegotiation of the so-called Chicago convention, which ensures that signatories tell one another if hazardous substances or important people are being flown in or out. Unfortunately, that convention does not cover prisoners at the moment. She said that we needed to
"be absolutely certain that we don't have a situation where we are complicit in torture because our airspace is being used or planes are landing in our country and then taking off again."
Other Members want to get into the debate, and rather than go into further detail with more questions, I shall ensure that the Minister has enough time to answer thoroughly. I may have further questions for him if he permits me to ask them during his response.
I shall draw a few general conclusions. In pressing this campaign, I have been motivated by five arguments, each of which is enough to require that the west's rendition policy should be challenged. First, there is the basic ethical point that to subject people to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is always morally wrong. Secondly, and this point has already been made in interventions, any information obtained or confessions signed in such circumstances are likely to be highly unreliable.
Thirdly, the evidence obtained can probably never be used to secure convictions. The maltreatment of so many detainees at Guantánamo Bay has turned the issue into a legal albatross for the Americans, making it difficult for them to secure convictions of detainees even when the evidence is strong. The Americans cannot bring those people before any court that the international community would recognise as being fair.
Fourthly, torturing people, and particularly the knowledge that we do so in many of the communities in which the terrorists may hide, makes counter-terrorism much harder. That is the point that Richard Dearlove made when he said that it made recruitment and the gathering of information much more difficult. I am confident that our intelligence services are against extraordinary rendition. They know that it makes us less not more safe, and it makes their job more dangerous, too.
Fifthly, and just as importantly, the countries that practise or condone rendition undermine the very values that we in the west seek to export. Rendition inflames the very communities whose support we most need to combat terrorism.
For all those reasons, I hope that the Minister will make a start by speaking out strongly against rendition, and by working vigorously to persuade the Americans to change policy. The "hug them close" approach that the Government have pursued has left Britain without any foreign policy at all on those issues. The Minister looks shocked, but I assure him that that is what the vast majority of the British public think. However, every time I ask a Minister to dissent from that policy, even a little, they persistently fail to do so. The Prime Minister—I admit he is Prime Minister for only one more day—failed to do so at the Dispatch Box late last year.
As with the US Administration, we have grown accustomed to hearing apparently firm statements that Britain is not involved, that we have searched our files and found nothing and the like, but so far we have not had that core condemnation from the Government to match their belated opposition to what has happened at Guantánamo Bay. Even ignoring the wider impact of the issue, or the immorality of it, a policy of torture will always be counter-productive. It makes us less secure, which is why Israel and the Israeli army abandoned its use. The French learned that lesson in Algeria, and the British learned it very early on in Northern Ireland.
At the outset I said that if I had time at the end of my speech, I would put rendition in a wider context, which I shall now do briefly.
Extraordinary rendition is part of a wider, failing US foreign policy. By setting aside international law and compromising the standards that all western democracies aspire to, the US has let us all down in the west. It is part of their radical unilateralist departure from post-war multilateralism, sitting alongside regime change and pre-emptive action. The plain fact is that all those policies have failed and are now seen to have failed. Extraordinary rendition has failed.
One cannot torture and expect democracy to grow at the same time; one cannot sing the praises of western open societies while kidnapping people from the very communities and faiths that one wants to convince; and one cannot win hearts and minds with the illegal use of force.
With luck, the dangerous Bush-Blair experiment is coming to an end. Ironically, the debate in Washington—the Minister has just returned from Washington—is well ahead of us. While we hear tentative talk about moving on from the Bush-Blair doctrines in London, we witness its death throes across the Atlantic, and we witness also a superpower's Administration paralysed by failure and attacked on all sides, particularly from within the ranks of the Republican party.
A new Prime Minister has a chance for a fresh start. The Government can do their bit to deflect Americans from that policy by dissenting from it vigorously and publicly. The Government can start today by committing themselves to at least consider putting some proposals on the statute book to bring this disgusting practice to an end.
I congratulate Mr. Tyrie on obtaining the debate, and I congratulate him and his colleagues, Mr. Mullin and my hon. Friend Norman Lamb, on their work with the all-party group on extraordinary rendition, of which I am a member. The hon. Member for Chichester has done a great deal to bring the issue to light, and particularly in Parliament, where we have all been able to see the extent of the problem and to raise issues about Government complicity.
I endorse the hon. Gentleman's recommendations to the Government, but I shall not repeat them. I wish to tell the stories of two of my constituents. I am in the unusual and undoubtedly invidious position of having two constituents who have been victims of this insidious practice. I am also chair of the all-party group on Guantánamo Bay, which is where both constituents ended up after they were picked up from various African countries.
One of those constituents, Martin Mubanga, is now home and trying to piece his life together. I saw him this week, and he still has nowhere to live. He is lucky, however, because he has dual British-Zambian citizenship, and the Government eventually got him out of Guantánamo Bay and returned him to his home just before the 2005 general election.
The other of those constituents, Jamil el-Banna, is a refugee. He is Palestinian and of Jordanian nationality, so he is effectively stateless in the context under discussion. The Government have disclaimed any responsibility for him, effectively leaving him to rot, and the worry is that he will be returned to Jordan, where he was tortured before coming to the UK. That would be an absolute disaster, so he remains in Guantánamo Bay, where he has been for four-and-a-half years, despite the US having cleared him for release a couple of months ago. The UK Government refuse to bring him home. Martin's and Jamil's cases are deeply disturbing, not least because in both there are serious allegations about British security service involvement in their rendition.
Martin Mubanga is an Islamic convert of Catholic parents. In October 2000 he left for Pakistan to study Islam and Arabic. He spent time in Peshawar before entering Afghanistan, studying at madrassahs in Kabul and Kandahar. He had intended to return to Britain on a flight from Karachi on
In March 2002, The Sunday Times reported that Martin Mubanga had been arrested in Afghanistan, but of course he was not in Afghanistan. He was in Zambia; it was somebody travelling on his passport who had been arrested. He was eventually arrested in Zambia, held in a police station for two nights and interrogated by an American official and a British official who called himself Martin and said that he worked for MI6. The man produced Martin's British passport, along with a list of Jewish organisations in New York and a military training manual that he claimed Martin had handwritten, and said that they had been found in a cave in Afghanistan. The handwriting in the manual did not match Martin Mubanga's. He says that they tried to recruit him as an agent, asking him to settle in South Africa or Leeds so that he could go undercover. He refused.
In March 2002, Martin was loaded on to a plane by men in balaclavas and flown to Guantánamo Bay. He was denied the opportunity to call family members who could prove that he travelled on a valid Zambian passport. In October 2004, his combatant status review tribunal confirmed that the grounds for his detention were that he had travelled to Zambia on false documents and that he had been on a mission to assess targets in New York. Military lawyers later reviewed the evidence and found that it was deeply flawed. Martin was eventually cleared for release and he returned to the UK in January 2005.
Martin appears to be the first British citizen known to have been subject to rendition. Handing him to the Americans without an extradition hearing was illegal. The question is, to what extent were British agents involved? Interestingly, published flight logs show that the CIA Gulfstream executive jet used in March and April 2002 to transport Martin to Guantánamo Bay was the same jet that had visited British airports more than 20 times since
If there are questions about the involvement of British security officials in Martin's rendition, there are many more about their involvement in Jamil el-Banna's. Jamil el-Banna and his close friend Bisher al-Rawi, to whom the hon. Member for Chichester referred, were arrested with their travelling companions, who were both British, on their arrival in Gambia at Banjul airport. Their story began much earlier, because Bisher al-Rawi had been working as an intermediary for MI5 for many months, possibly years. I hope that when Bisher tells his story, we will know the extent of his involvement and the extent to which his handover based on information from British security officials was a breach of their relationship with him.
Bisher had been helping MI5 make contact with the radical cleric Abu Qatada. Jamil el-Banna's contact with Abu Qatada was also known to MI5, and some of it was sanctioned. For example, when Abu Qatada was arrested, Jamil was called to taxi his wife and children home, and officials expressly thanked him at the scene. We have learned since then that MI5 had also tried to recruit Jamil el-Banna, offering him a new life and identity. He said that he did not want it; he wanted to remain where he was, because he was a family man and his five British children—four at that point—went to British schools. We have also learned since then that MI5 passed on to the US authorities the information leading directly to the men's arrest, and that that information was deeply flawed, because the telegrams sent by the security services to the unidentifiable foreign Government have been released. They were released during court cases and investigated by the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition.
The telegrams claimed that Abu Qatada had extensive links to a wide range of terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda network, and that the security services would be interested to learn whether the Gambians could cover the individuals while they were in Gambia. When the men attempted to fly again on
It would be hard to show that British information did not lead directly to those men's arrest. I understand that the Intelligence and Security Committee is investigating the extent to which Britain was complicit, but surely it is not controversial to state that the information led directly to their release. Whether British intelligence knew that it would lead to their release is a matter of semantics, but it is not controversial that information provided by the British led to the men's arrest. It is also clear from the information that has come from Guantánamo Bay that both Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna have been questioned almost exclusively on the basis of information provided by British security services.
In the months during which the two were first questioned, about a month of questioning took place in Gambia. On
In Bagram and in the dark prison, both men were subjected to extreme torture—sleep deprivation, extremes of noise and temperature, and beatings. If you will forgive me, Mr. Illsley, I shall place on record what would otherwise be unparliamentary language. At this point, Jamil el-Banna was subjected to a threat "that they would fuck his wife"—a clear and particularly offensive threat to rape his wife in the UK. Both men allege that they were subjected to similar mistreatment in Guantánamo Bay.
A few months ago, Jamil el-Banna was finally cleared for release. I am delighted that the Minister has been willing to put on record his condemnation of Guantánamo Bay. I hope that today he will similarly put on record his condemnation of the extraordinary rendition of both my constituents, but I add that I do not want just condemnation. We have heard the British Government's condemnation of Guantánamo Bay for some time now, but that has not forced them to act on it. My constituent remains in Guantánamo Bay, one of a number of British residents still there. If this Government really believe that Guantánamo Bay should close—if they really believe that it is so morally corrupt—perhaps they will finally act on that belief, bring my constituent home where he belongs and accept responsibility for him at last.
One of the poets of the first world war, when asked what he was fighting for, picked up a chunk of English earth. It graphically described what he believed. I think that if one were to ask British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan what they were fighting for, they would not do quite the same thing, but they would say that they thought they were fighting for freedom, liberty, the rule of law and democracy—for concepts important to them. If one reflects on those concepts and then on the reality of Guantánamo, one sees that it is the antithesis of everything that we in this House collectively believe in.
I voted against the war in Iraq simply as a lawyer. I believed it to be contrary to international law, not having the necessary UN approval. It is no joy to those of us who felt that way that that lack of legal authority has made the coalition's situation throughout the conflict in Iraq very much more difficult.
Guantánamo was deliberately set up to be outside the legal structures. Only yesterday, an article in the International Herald Tribune stated:
"Guantánamo was chosen for the prison camp in the first place because, while it is an American military installation, it is not on American soil and thus not as subject to American law as are prisons within the United States...Administration hard-liners have opposed housing the prisoners in the United States, at least in part because they would presumably have legal rights and thus be able to challenge the conditions of their confinement and interrogations."
Everyone in this House must start from the premise that deliberately setting up an extra-legal jurisdiction, to exclude individuals from the rights of law and the basic concept of habeas corpus, destroys everything in which this country has believed since Magna Carta and beyond. If a major ally pursues those policies, its approach is fundamentally flawed—and, what is more, totally counter-productive. If the United Kingdom and the United States seek to say, "We believe in democracy and have the moral high ground," how on earth will Guantánamo play out in the refugee camps of Gaza, the streets of Peshawar or the back alleys of Kandahar? It is all completely counter-productive, and I think that we all agree on that.
Given that background of actions by the United States, the Minister has to accept that it is not a huge leap to infer reasonably, from the evidence of Sarah Teather—eye-witness evidence from UK citizens who have been rendered—that such practices have been going on.
I want to draw the attention of the House to two recent incidents; the first has not been raised until now. A couple of weeks ago, the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday reported that a US CASA 212 plane landed at RAF Mildenhall on
There are also the interesting observations of the new deputy leader and chairman of the Labour party, the former Minister at the Department of Justice; I am not sure exactly when the transition will take place. Those of us who have been in government know that one of the difficulties is reconciling lines to take. Understandably, that is a particular issue for the Foreign Office because one has to clear, around Whitehall, the position that one is taking.
We know that the Minister whom I mentioned, Ms Harman, is a decent person, and I am sure that that is why she has been elected deputy leader and chairman of the Labour party. Presumably, she will become Deputy Prime Minister, but she was recently Minister at the Ministry of Justice. As my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie said, very recently, in that capacity, she asked for what was perceived to be a loophole in the convention on international civil aviation, known as the Chicago convention, to be closed. That loophole means that although the UK Government have to be formally notified if flights contain hazardous material or VIPs, they do not have to be notified about those that contain prisoners. To me, what she did looked like the Ministry of Justice trying to reconcile lines to take—why, otherwise, would the Minister have raised the issue at all?
It strikes me that the Minister was seeking to say to other Government Departments, "Look, the suspicion must be that the Foreign Office says that it knows nothing about anyone being rendered through UK airspace because the US Government do not have to tell us, so we officially do not know. Actually, we do know and there is heavy suspicion that it happens, so we should reconcile the situation by making it obligatory for us to be told and removing the loophole from the convention." That was a clear signal that something is amiss—otherwise, why would the issue be raised at all?
I thought it pretty feeble of the Association of Chief Police Officers simply to look at media reports. Given that reports have been done by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and others, it must be in the Government's best interests to co-operate fully with the Intelligence and Security Committee so that we put the issue to bed once and for all.
The bottom line is this: clearly, rendition has been established to remove people from a civilised legal jurisdiction and take them to places where things that others would rather we did not know about—and would be unacceptable if they occurred here or in the United States—can happen. At the beginning of the 21st century, that is morally wrong and extremely short-sighted. I suspect that it puts our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in jeopardy. If we are not treating other human beings with respect, some may believe that when our soldiers are captured, they do not have to treat our men and women with respect. The situation is wrong, short-sighted and counter-productive.
The Minister is very forthright. I hope that he will condemn the practice of extraordinary rendition with the clarity and fervour with which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office and now Ministers collectively have been condemning Guantánamo Bay.
I congratulate Mr. Tyrie on bringing this issue to the House and on all the hard work that he has done on it as chairman of the all-party group on extraordinary rendition.
We are debating an important and serious issue today. I shall come to what the hon. Gentleman said in a minute, but first I turn to my hon. Friend Sarah Teather. She outlined two cases for which there is documented evidence of British citizens and others being rendered with the complicity and help of British intelligence services. Her evidence alone brings me to one of the two promises that I want the Minister to give today. That is that there must be, should be and has to be a full and proper inquiry into the allegations.
As has been said, we need to go further than previous inquiries, which considered only newspaper evidence. We need an inquiry that will not only take evidence from people such as those whom my hon. Friend mentioned, but go to the places from which they were rendered and conduct a proper investigation into what they allege happened to them.
Only when that has been done, and we have firm evidence, can those allegations be proved false or correct and will the point just raised by Tony Baldry be dealt with. It is a serious point. Why should other countries or groups respect international law when they can clearly claim that we—Great Britain and America—are not respecting it? Why should they not kidnap and hold people, as they currently do, if they believe that we are doing the same? It is one rule for one, and a different one for others. That is a justification that they use, and, unless we can put it to rest, it will be hard for us to argue that they are wrong and to negotiate with them on the basis that they are morally and legally wrong. In an inquiry, we would be able to say, "Yes, we have committed an error and we will correct it and ensure that it does not happen again." However, whatever course we take, I hope that the Minister will take up that point.
The hon. Member for Chichester listed a number of cases that need to be answered. The evidence that he gave today and that he has found from his own inquiry both reinforce the need for a full and proper inquiry. I shall not address all his remarks, but he made some very good points on definition. I notice from the papers that we have been given that the definition of real torture is used, and is used even by the Minister. The foreign affairs spokesman for the Conservative party, Mr. Hague, tabled a written parliamentary question that said:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her Department's response is to the allegations concerning the UK in the November 2006 report of the Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners."
In his response the Minister used words that cause concern. He said
"We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or the Overseas Territories since 1997 where there were substantial grounds to believe that there was a real risk of torture."—[Hansard, 28 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1386W.]
However, the Minister's departmental superiors have already accepted that there were cases of application for rendition, and as I have not seen the evidence, I would be interested to know where those people were rendered and whether their rendition to that destination might have led to a risk of torture. If the Minister cannot answer that point now, perhaps he could write to us later.
It is extraordinary that the EU has claimed that there were 1,250 CIA flights through Europe. We know of a number of flights involving the UK. My hon. Friend Dr. Cable tabled a written parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, that asked on what dates
In his reply, the Secretary of State answered:
We would all like to know what that aircraft was doing and why it landed 14 times. I accept that there is a lot of smoke, but we do not necessarily have the proof of a fire. Generally, however, where there is smoke there is fire.
The CIA is not going to tell us that they are undertaking extraordinary rendition. Common sense says that, if one is breaking international law, one does not run up a flag and say, "Right chaps, we are breaking international law." Likewise, if we are complicit in helping the US to break international law, we are not going to say so. It is quite possible that those in the UK who might be complicit have not even told their superiors or advised Ministers. That comes back to the issue of justice and the need for an inquiry to consider the evidence and to determine the purpose of the flights into and out of the UK.
The point made in relation to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham about recognition of loopholes is significant. In all the evidence that has been presented to various Committees, the Ministers and Secretaries of State have always categorically denied that anything else needed to be done and that everything was watertight. We were told that there was no rendition and that, apart from the three cases about which we were informed, there could be none. The reason given was that the Americans are nice people and would therefore tell us if the situation was otherwise. I am not convinced.
I shall conclude so that the Minister has plenty of time to deal with the two promises that I mentioned: the promise to have an inquiry and secondly whether he will say categorically for the record that extraordinary rendition is wrong, that he believes that to be case, and that the Government will do all in their power to end it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie not only on obtaining the debate but on all the work that he has done in the all-party group. He has done the House a great service. I congratulate Sarah Teather on her erudite description of the circumstances of her two constituents and my hon. Friend Tony Baldry on his usual clear and concise exposition of the subject.
There is a long history of rendition: the handing over of someone by force from one place to another—sometimes one country to another. There are many examples; the exile of Napoleon might be taken as one. More recent examples include Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre, and Carlos the Jackal, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester alluded. The European Commission on Human Rights, however, interestingly rejected Carlos's claims that his rendition from Sudan was unlawful.
There is a difference between rendition and extraordinary rendition. Extraordinary rendition involves the transferring of individuals either for interrogation to countries that might have a record of using torture or to prevent the judicial system of a country operating against an individual.
US laws and international treaties prohibit the transfer of suspects to countries where they are likely to face torture. Indeed, the US has given us assurance that it does not render detainees to any country for the purpose of interrogation that uses torture, or to a country where he or she will be tortured—I stress the word "will". Those assurances are welcome. However, there is still a risk that, when detainees are rendered to a third country, that process might lead to torture. In such cases, there is a risk of losing control over the conditions such that a detainee might be held and tortured.
Our Government and security services bear a great responsibility to act effectively against that threat; they must be vigilant and act decisively, sometimes even pre-emptively. The security of a state's citizens is a paramount obligation of that state. Since the dreadful events of
Many such people are dangerous, and some have information that might save lives—perhaps even thousands of lives. Nevertheless, we must uphold those values whose benefit we enjoy, that we want to protect, and that we want to encourage others to take up. Extraordinary rendition is an emotive subject that requires objective examination.
We understand that captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We must adapt, and Governments other than that of the United States are now also facing that challenge. However, the Conservative party believes that we must conduct our foreign policy in a way that does not deviate from our values, central to which is the deeply held belief in the primacy and inviolability of individual human rights. If we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will all have failed.
The attacks in New York, Nairobi, Bali, Madrid, Beslan, Casablanca, Istanbul and even London cannot be ignored. They serve as a reminder of the reach of terrorists and the extremes to which they will go to hit our civilisation. Human rights do not apply solely to the western world, nor are they standards from which particular cultures or religions can choose to opt out. They are, and should be, universal.
Likewise, international prohibitions of torture are universal and absolute. The law is absolutely clear that there can be no derogation from those prohibitions under any circumstances, including those of war. That is the key issue, and the debate has not yet quite got to it. It is not just a legal issue; where there are abuses, despair and resentment will surely grow. That serves the interests of those seeking to recruit for violent causes. If we are to win the war on terror it is absolutely paramount that we have the moral advantage. If we do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury asked, how can we expect others to uphold the same values? If we succumb to lower standards, it gives the terrorist the excuse to carry out his dreadful acts and to recruit others to do the same.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there remain questions about whether the British Government have been aware of stop-overs of CIA-operated aircraft and whom they have contained? The Minister grumbled quietly to himself when my hon. Friend Richard Younger-Ross raised that point in an intervention, but I wish to put on record that among the aircraft that have been shown to be used by the CIA and have stopped—
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have a big section in my speech on that, but due to the time I do not think I am going to reach it. I entirely agree with her that the matter needs to be examined.
Accusations and testimony of extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects have led to a critical erosion of our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it. To do so would set a poor example to those who look to the western world for leadership.
There is a need to find a better way to address the problem that the detention centres were designed to solve, and we must guard against possible long-term miscarriages of justice. As others have said, the Abu Ghraib abuses were a truly shameful episode and showed that departures from our normal standards of human dignity can cost lives. If such a culture has been allowed to develop, it must be tackled at a senior level.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge referred to the answer given to my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague. It is worth repeating that in 2006 the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw, gave my right hon. Friend the assurance that
That was a fundamental assurance. The present Minister also stated that the Government
"would not facilitate the transfer of an individual from or through the UK to another State where there were grounds to believe that the person would face a real risk of torture."—[Hansard, 20 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 2840W.]
Those were pretty substantial assurances. However, I am keen to be reassured by the Minister. Will he give me an absolute assurance that the British Government totally reject extraordinary rendition? He gave such a clear assurance on Guantánamo Bay, and a frank assurance on rendition would go a long way towards putting the issue to bed.
I have one or two other questions. Will the Minister assure us that he has no information of British territories or airspace actively or passively being used for extraordinary rendition? Have any arrangements been made to enable the refuelling at military airfields of civilian aircraft with passengers destined for extraordinary rendition? The essence of the finding of reports by Amnesty International on
"any evidence to show that there are people on board those planes which do land here who are being transferred for the purposes of extraordinary rendition".
If a Defence Minister was able to give such an assurance, will the Minister repeat it today?
Why was clearance given to planes to land at military airfields in the UK? It is accepted that the Department for Transport instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to give clearance for aircraft identified as being on charter to the CIA to land at civil and military airfields in the UK. Did the Foreign and Commonwealth Office instruct the DFT and, if not, at whose behest were the instructions given? Why were they given without the Government having full knowledge of the purpose of the arrangements involved? Why was not any attempt made over the years to discover the purpose of the 185 flights in question? We shall continue to hold the Government to the assurances that the then Foreign Secretary gave in 2006.
We must work not to undermine the foundations of international law and the rules that exist to protect human rights, and we must ensure that, wherever possible, it is the power of our example, not the power of our armed forces, that imposes those rules. The rules of international law and human rights matter fundamentally, and the perception that they may be bent, whether selectively, deliberately or as a consequence of inadequate attention to the risks attendant on our actions, damages our moral authority and international standing. By undermining our achievements and complicating the task ahead it may, ironically and tragically, make us less rather than more safe.
I am sorry that I have barely 12 minutes to answer a huge number of questions, but I welcome the opportunity to try to do so. I thank Mr. Tyrie for giving us the opportunity to debate the issue. There have been persistent allegations that the Government have refused to address rendition fully and openly and that we have somehow sought to evade accountability to Parliament. The debate is an opportunity to set the record straight.
I wish at the outset to tackle two persistent myths about rendition. First, and in answer to some of the questions asked by Mr. Clifton-Brown, who made a typically thoughtful and measured speech, I reiterate that the Government have not approved and will not approve a policy of facilitating the transfer of individuals through the United Kingdom to places where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face a real risk of torture.
Secondly, I reject totally the allegation that the Government have refused to address the issue fully and openly. In fact, we have done everything we can to keep the House informed and co-operated fully with international inquiries into rendition, including by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
I recently wrote to the hon. Member for Chichester, further to the work that he and the all-party extraordinary rendition group, which he chairs, have done on the issue. I underlined in my letter that we carried out extensive searches of official records and found no evidence that detainees were rendered through the UK or overseas territories since 1997 if there were substantial grounds to believe that there was a real risk of torture.
In his letter, the hon. Gentleman called for new legislation to prescribe how any future requests for rendition through the UK should be dealt with. I am not persuaded that new legislation would add practical value, but, given the work that he and the all-party group have done, I have asked my officials to consider the matter further to confirm that assessment, and I hope that he will welcome that.
As the hon. Member for Cotswold reminded us, the term "rendition" is inexact. However, the Government's policy is clear: the facts of each individual case will determine whether any particular rendition is lawful. Neither the hon. Member for Chichester nor the hon. Member for Cotswold mentioned that there are many other states that "rendite" people. Some of them are geographically close to us. If we are requested to assist another state and our assistance would be lawful, we will decide whether to assist, taking into account all the circumstances. We would not assist in any case if it would put us in breach of UK law or our international obligations.
In 1998, the US made four requests for permission to render one or more detainees through the UK or overseas territories. Records show that the Government refused two requests and granted two others. In both cases where permission was granted, the detainees were subsequently tried on criminal charges in the US. One pleaded guilty to murder, and the other was charged for his part in the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Chichester is criticising the substance of the decisions that Ministers took in 1998. Certainly no other commentator has criticised the decisions. The hon. Gentleman made a fair case for improving our procedures and made several helpful proposals to that effect, but we should keep the issue in perspective.
In its fourth report, "Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism", which was published last summer, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that although there had been speculation about the complicity of the British Government in unlawful rendition,
"there has been no hard evidence of the truth of any of these allegations."
I commend that conclusion to the hon. Gentleman.
I followed the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. At one point, he said that the Minister almost certainly would not know the facts. I believe that he said that a couple of times. He will not enjoy my saying this, but that is the usual conspiracy theory mantra. The only people who know the facts are, of course, the conspirators and those who indulge in conspiracy theories. They always know the truth; they always know the facts.
Ministers can never know the facts because, as Richard Younger-Ross said, their superiors would not tell them the facts. I know that the hon. Gentleman has not been a Minister—chances are that he never will be one because of the party that he belongs to—but I can tell him that he clearly does not know how Departments work. Also, it is incredibly insulting to be told that I have been kept in the dark, and that I would not know about such things, as if perhaps I do not care enough to try to find out about them.
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman talked for too long as it is, and I have only a few minutes left. Back-Bench speeches were supposed to end at 12 o'clock, and we were supposed to start the winding-up speeches then, but that did not happen.
Thank you, Mr. Martlew. There has been confusion about this because your predecessor in the Chair said that winding-up speeches would start at 12 o'clock. They did not—they started at six minutes past 12, and the hon. Member for Teignbridge knows that full well.
On a point of order, Mr. Martlew. Would you clarify that the winding-up speeches did start at 12 o'clock? I spoke for only seven minutes, and I was part of the winding-up process.
There we are, then: 12.05, not 12.06. Let us get back to the business in hand.
The hon. Gentleman would, of course, say that the Minister would not know, and, unfortunately, so would the hon. Member for Chichester, because there is an assumption that they have a monopoly on compassion and opposition to torture. I believe that torture is wrong in every respect, and I will fight the corner for not using it or any technique that puts an individual in a position in which, for the sake of getting intelligence or information out of them, their human rights are degraded and they are treated in an abhorrent way.
Absolutely. I give that undertaking totally. We are completely opposed to such activities. They are a violation of every international treaty that we have signed up to and of British law, and I hope that that is clear.
Will the Minister clarify whether in saying that he is condemning the policy that the United States has developed during the past seven or eight years for large numbers of extraordinary renditions? Is it British policy publicly to make our Government's dissociation from that policy crystal-clear to the Americans?
No, I am not criticising American Government policy. The hon. Gentleman assumes that the Americans are torturing people. I certainly do not have such information, but he is very clear about it. I disagree entirely.
Is the Minister seriously suggesting that the overwhelming body of evidence that has been produced in Washington to show that the Americans have been engaged in rendition, a policy that involves cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that amounts to torture, does not exist or has been made up? Is he suggesting that it is just a figment of the imagination of people on the Opposition Benches?
No, it certainly is not a figment of the imagination. Such treatment would not take place in Britain, in British prisons or in prisons that Britain is responsible for administering in any other territory.
I did answer the question. I said that we would not allow the kinds of things that we have heard about from Guantanamo Bay to take place in this country. If the hon. Lady cannot understand that, I feel sorry for her. I was very clear.
I would like to make this important point. Since before
It is dangerous to throw mud against this country as has been done this morning. Mud is being thrown. There is always a willingness, especially among members of the Liberal Democrat party, to throw mud at anything in the hope that it might stick, but it is an irresponsible thing to do. This country stands not for torture or the kinds of practices that have properly been criticised today but against terrorism. I have never yet come across a single acknowledgment of that fact, or heard a good word about the process of democracy and justice in this country.