Thursday, January 19, 2006

Blair covers up for rendition

Tony Blair looks to be in even more trouble, this time over the American policy of extraordinary rendition. A Foreign Office briefing paper leaked to the New Statesman reveals that the government believed that rendition for the purposes of torture "is almost certainly illegal", and that cooperating with it (e.g. by allowing rendition flights to land and refuel in the UK) "would also be illegal if we knew of the circumstances". It also reveals that the Blair government had embarked on a deliberate effort to cover-up the extent of their cooperation and spin their way out of trouble:

"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail", Mr Siddiq [a high level flunky for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw] writes, "and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations."

Blair followed this advice to the letter, repeatedly denying any knowledge of the process of rendition or of any cooperation by the UK, and claiming that he had

absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here.

However, his own government was perfectly aware of both the process and the legal issues - in 1998 they had refused permission for the US to use British airspace to transfer a man suspected of involvement in the African embassy bombings to Egypt, precisely on the grounds that he might be tortured. But I guess they'd just forgotten...