Thursday, June 08, 2006

Minister admits government in the dark over rendition flights

Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, has admitted in a letter to Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, that the government does not know whether CIA-chartered planes landing at military airfields in Britain were regarded as US government or commercial flights.

He also makes it clear that Britain is under no obligation to ask the US about the purpose of the flights, and the US does not have to say. Mr Moore asked three months ago for details of three planes known to have been used by the CIA and to have passed through military airfields. In his reply, seen by the Guardian, Mr Ingram says RAF airfields cannot confirm whether the planes "were, or were not, US state aircraft".

Flights used by state agencies are obliged to obtain clearance before passing through, or landing in, a foreign country. However, Mr Ingram said that Britain had negotiated a "standing block agreement" with the US whereby the government had to be notified only if the aircraft was carrying "VIPs or dangerous air cargo".

His admissions became known as a report by the Council of Europe accused Britain of offering logistical support for CIA operations and providing information used during the torture of a terrorist suspect. Many European countries turned a blind eye to CIA "rendition" operations, the report says.

"Ministers must answer specific allegations of British assistance, and explain why they have failed to ask hard questions of their Americans counterparts", Mr Moore said yesterday. He added: "We urgently need complete transparency from the British government, an independent inquiry and a review of the relevant international legislation."

The Blair government, and several other governments around Europe, appear to be adopting a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding these US rendition flights.

Indeed, Blair hardened his non co-operative stance on this matter yesterday when he told Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, "We have said absolutely all we have to say on this. There is nothing more to add to it."

This is simply not an acceptable stance. We cannot claim to oppose torture and then allow the US to use our bases in what we suspect are flights of rendition.

Blair is once again guilty of an abdication of his responsibility to ensure that UK air bases are not being used to facilitate behaviour that we disapprove of.

He may think he is being the US's greatest ally, but he is certainly not being the US's greatest friend. Sometime a friend has to tell you that you are wrong.

Blair appears to be facilitating the US in actions that are guaranteed to damage the world's opinion of the US in the long term.

As Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and countless other scandals have proven, these things have a way of leaking out.

Much as Blair and others dance and weave in an attempt to blind us from what is happening, one day we will find out the truth about these rendition flights.

On that day, Blair will be asked to explain himself.

I have no doubt that Blair will be long out of office by then and his reputation will be so damaged that this will simply be a further stain on his already deeply soiled character.

The danger for Americans is that both Bush and Blair are damaging the reputation of a country once known for it's high moral values.

And a reputation squandered is never easily won back. Fame is a notoriously fickle beast that comes and goes at it's own will.

Infamy lasts considerably longer.

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