Extraordinary Rendition

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:37 am on 26th June 2007.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education 11:37 am, 26th June 2007

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 26 September 2001, and planned to travel across the border by bus, but all the buses stopped running after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He hid in Kandahar during the American bombing, and there he realised that his passport and will had gone missing. Eventually, he managed to get to Pakistan. From there, he used his Zambian passport to go to Zambia, where he was joined by his sister and stayed with family members.

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 11 September 2001 and that was used to render my other constituent, Jamil el-Banna. It is curious that there is such an overlap in the two cases.

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.

On 1 November 2002, when the two men first attempted to travel to Gambia, they were arrested by British officials who believed that an electrical device in their luggage appeared suspicious. They were released days later, claiming that the device was entirely innocent, but during the period between their first and second attempts to travel, telegrams were sent stating expressly that a suspicious device was in their luggage, that both of them were members of Abu Qatada's circle of close friends and that Jamil was assessed to be Abu Qatada's financier—a statement that even the CSRT in Guantánamo Bay rejected, I hasten to add.

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 8 November, a telegram gave exact spellings of the men's names for check-in, their flight details and their time of arrival, saying that this communication should be read in the light of earlier communication.

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 8 December 2002, while habeas corpus procedures were pending, Bisher and Jamil were flown from Banjul to Kabul, where they were sent to the dark prison. It appears to have been a classic CIA rendition. They were detained by a group of seven or eight men dressed entirely in black and wearing full-face black masks. The prisoners' clothes were cut off and they were dressed in nappies and jumpsuits and rendered aboard CIA Gulfstream jet VN379P, which began from Washington Dulles airport and then flew to Banjul. The flight left Banjul and flew to Cairo, where it refuelled, and then to Kabul in Afghanistan. Gulfstream VN379P was re-registered as N8068V, so we know which jet took them. As I said, it appears to be the same one that rendered my other constituent.

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.