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Thursday, July 26, 2007 

Rendition: The whitewash is applied.

Another day, another reasonably damning report on rendition, this time from the Intelligence and Security committee, which ties itself in knots (PDF) in order not to implicitly condemn MI6's role in the rendition of alleged terrorist suspects. First, it provides a lesson in how to obfuscate by defining the different sorts of rendition:

Definitions

6. The term “rendition”is used to mean different things by different people. It encompasses numerous variations ofextra-judicial transfer such as: to countries where the person is wanted for trial; to countries where the individual can be adequately interrogated; transfer for the purposes of prolonged detention;and military transfer of battlefield detainees.

7. In order to provide clarity,the Committee has used the following terms throughout this Report:

“Rendition”: Encompasses any extra-judicial transfer ofpersons from one jurisdiction or State to another.

“Rendition to Justice”: The extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or State to another, for the purposes ofstanding trial within an established and recognised legal and judicial system.

“Military Rendition”: The extra-judicial transfer of persons (detained in, or related to, a theatre of military operations) from one State to another, for the purposes of military detention in a military facility.

“Rendition to Detention”: The extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or State to another, for the purposes of detention and interrogation outside the normal legal system.

“Extraordinary Rendition”: The extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or State to another, for the purposes of detention and interrogation outside the normal legal system, where there is a real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (CIDT).

For example, the transfer of battlefield detainees from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay would fall into the category of “Military Renditions”. The transfer of a detainee unconnected to the conflict in Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay would be a “Rendition to Detention”. A transfer to a secret facility constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment because there is no access to legal or other representation and, on that basis,we would describe this as an “Extraordinary Rendition”.

Isn't that glorious? According to the committee then, what happened to Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, who were rendered to Guant
ánamo Bay as a result of information provided to the CIA by MI6 wasn't actually an "extraordinary rendition", as they weren't being sent to somewhere where there was a "real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment". I don't know about you, but I consider two men being effectively kidnapped by a security service far outside of their own legal jurisdiction and then imprisoned in a camp where numerous former detainees have alleged that mistreatment was endemic, in al-Rawi's case for 4 years, with al-Banna's detention still continuing, to be cruel and inhuman treatment, whether they were personally tortured or not. In fact, I'd say it was pretty much a complete fucking outrage. Using this definition however, the committee comes to this conclusion:

D.Those operations detailed above, involving UK Agencies’ knowledge or involvement, are “Renditions to Justice”, “Military Renditions”and “Renditions to “the Detention”. They are not “Extraordinary Renditions”, which we define as extra-judicial transfer ofpersons from one jurisdiction or State to another, for the purposes of detention and interrogation outside the normal legal system,where there is a real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. We note that in some of the cases we refer to, there are allegations of mistreatment, including whilst individuals were detained at Guantánamo Bay, although we have not found evidence that such mistreatment was foreseen by the Agencies. The Committee has therefore found no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any “Extraordinary Rendition” operations.

With the goalposts thus shifted, the UK agencies get a clean bill of health. Everything is right with the world after all!

Elements of whitewash are splashed liberally around most of the cases which the committee has investigated. On Binyam Mohamed, who you might remember as the prisoner who had his penis repeatedly slashed with a scalpel, MI6 informs the committee that they one of their men did indeed interview him in Karachi in 2002, and that it's quite possible that information they handed to the Americans on him was subsequently used by the Moroccans who tortured him. However, their conclusion is:

Conclusions
M. There is a reasonable probability that intelligence passed to the Americans was used in al-Habashi’s subsequent interrogation. We cannot confirm any part of al-Habashi’s account of his detention or mistreatment after his transfer from Pakistan.

N. We agree with the Director General of the Security Service that, with hindsight, it is regrettable that assurances regarding proper treatment of detainees were not sought from the Americans in this case.

Throughout the report MI6 is repeatedly let off the hook because "at the time" they didn't know what the Americans were doing to those being rendered. This failure to see any evil in what the CIA was doing only changed after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal was unearthed, as is described in a section of the report headed "ethical dilemmas":

149. The Security Service and SIS have, certainly since 1998, where they considered it necessary, sought assurances from foreign intelligence services that individuals facing detention as a result of any action or intelligence shared with them would be treated humanely. This was originally more concerned with the need to ensure a fair trial and avoid capital punishment as CIDT was not thought to be a likely risk.

150. It was only when news surfaced ofthe mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004 that the UK Government realised that there were real risks of CIDT:
Back in 2003 we were concerned about secret facilities but we did not at that stage, I think, make an automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment. That sort ofconnection grew later as more allegations came to light or… things like Abu Ghraib came to light, which led you to believe, just a minute, if that is happening there, what might be happening in secret facilities.

From an organisation that is meant to imagine the worst in order to prevent it, this is not just a shocking lack of curiosity, it absolutely reeks of cover-up. Guant
ánamo itself had been open for over two and a half years by the time the Abu Ghraib scandal occurred, where from the beginning there were allegations of ill-treatment and torture. Is MI6 seriously trying to suggest that when it knew full well that suspects were being transferred to black sites and countries where torture was endemic that it honestly believed the CIA's motives for doing so were entirely pure? Why on earth is the Intelligence and Security Committee willing to accept this errant nonsense?

Finally, the allegations of "ghost flights" containing rendered individuals going through UK airspace are similarly dealt with in a "see no evil" style, especially by the director of the MI6:

We have no knowledge of any detainees being subject to rendition through British territory since 9/11; nor have we helped any “Extraordinary Renditions” via UK airspace or territory; nor have the U.S sought our assistance or permission to use UK airspace or facilities… Unless you say you are going to search every aircraft to check the truth of what you are told, it is a difficult issue… As you know… we are prioritising ruthlessly and I could not possibly justify diverting people to check whether aircraft are CIA-sponsored and what they contain,and frankly I doubt the police have the resources to do this.

In other words then, since the Americans didn't feel the need to inform anyone of what they were doing, we're not going to waste any time investigating the possibility, even if it is backed up by mountains of evidence showing the flights linked to the rendition programme have passed through UK airports. The police also have much better things to do than investigating whether men who have been kidnapped and are on their way to being tortured are being flown through UK airspace;
like chastising parents for the way they discipline their children, or removing protesters so that a bull can be slaughtered. The committee's own conclusion is:

FF. The use of UK airspace and airports by CIA-operated aircraft is not in doubt. There have been many allegations related to these flights but there have been no allegations, and we have seen no evidence, that suggest that any of these CIA flights have transferred detainees through UK airspace (other than two “Rendition to Justice” cases in 1998 which were approved by the UK Government following U.S. requests).

All of which reminds one of the phrase "plausible deniability". Don't tell and we won't ask. The silence it seems will forever continue, as shown by Gordon Brown's refusal to condemn the rendition programme yesterday and by the government's pretty pathetic response to the committee's report (PDF). Some things are destined to remain secret.

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