Charles Kennedy's Questions on Renditon: Some good points, but has he has missed the point when it comes to Jack Straw
For those of us who didn't understand a word Charles kennedy was saying last week on C4 News, the Lib Dems have released the text of his letter to Blair asking about our involvement in Extraordinary Rendition. [Someone must have written it for him, it is clear and concise.]
It contains some good questions, which doubtless will ilicit some creative answers, but misses some important points:
I am writing with regard to your answers to me at Prime Minister's Questions about the US policy of "extraordinary rendition".
Could you clarify a number of points:
At Prime Minister's Questions, you told me that "in respect of airports, I don't know what he's referring to." In fact, I was referring to the already published European Air Traffic and US Federal Aviation Administration data about extraordinary rendition flights. Can you now provide the full figures for the number of extraordinary rendition flights that have passed through UK airports and airspace since the policy began?
When you told me that extraordinary rendition had been US policy for "many years", did you mean that it has been the policy just of this administration, or of preceding US administrations?
Have you known about this throughout your time as Prime Minister and, if not, when did you first learn of such a policy?
At what stage did you give approval for British acquiescence in facilitating such a policy through the use of our airports and airspace?
If this has been such long-standing policy, can you advise me whether these 400 flights involving 18 airports represent a substantial increase in such activity?
Given that the Foreign Secretary wrote to the US Government in his role as Chair of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers expressing concern about extraordinary rendition flights, are we to assume that the Foreign Secretary was not aware at the time of writing, and, unlike the Prime Minister himself, that this was a long-standing US policy?
Finally, can you explain why these flights need to take place? If terrorist suspects are not being transported either for extradition or for torture, what possible reason is there for so many flights taking place around the world?
Rt Hon. Charles Kennedy MP
Similar questions have been put to the government before. When we see the Bliar's answer to Charlie's written question, we look forward to comparing that answer to the governments position as stated to the the Foreign Affairs Select Committee [They don't belive the government either]:
96. On 25 February, we wrote to the FCO about extraordinary rendition. We asked the Government:
* whether the United Kingdom has used extraordinary rendition or any other practice of sending suspects to third countries for interrogation;
* whether the United Kingdom has allowed any other country to use its territory or its airspace for such purposes or received information which has been gained using these methods; and
* whether the Government regards the use of such methods as (a) legally and (b) morally acceptable?
97. In its response to this letter, the Government told us:
The British Government's policy is not to deport or extradite any person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that the person will be subject to torture or where there is a real risk that the death penalty will be applied. Whether rendition is contrary to international law depends on the particular circumstances of each case. We encourage all members of the international community to respect international law and human rights standards… The British Government is not aware of the use of its territory or airspace for the purposes of "extraordinary rendition". The British Government has not received any requests, nor granted any permissions, for the use of UK territory or airspace for such purposes… As you will be aware, this issue was the subject of a comprehensive inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee, whose report (CM6469) has just been published. Ministers have also answered a number of Parliamentary questions on this.
This response does not provide a satisfactory answer to our questions. Similarly, parliamentary questions put by a Member of this Committee have met with obfuscation.
98. We conclude that the Government has failed to deal with questions about extraordinary rendition with the transparency and accountability required on so serious an issue. If the Government believes that extraordinary rendition is a valid tool in the war against terrorism, it should say so openly and transparently, so that it may be held accountable. We recommend that the Government end its policy of obfuscation and that it give straight answers to the Committee's questions of 25 February.
Jack Straw responded to the FAC's charges of "obfuscation", by repeating his original points, and qualifying them with an "I'm not going to tell you any more than that"...
More recently, Jack has wrigled more, but said even less. In this excerpt he also compounds his lies on the British Governments use of evidence extracted by torture, with another sly dig at Craig Murray's legitimacy and integrity.
But he holds the government line for a third time:
We are not aware of the use of our territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. We have not received any requests or granted any permissions for use of UK territory or air space for such purposes.
[FYI, to date Jack has refused to debate with, or appear on the same platform as Craig, including when they were contesting Blackburn in the 05/05/05 election]
Charles Kennedy cites Jack Straw's apparent lack of knowlege of Rendition based on his letter to Condi, contrasting it with Blair's apparent knowlege of the US policy of rendition.
In fact, Jack's letter never mentioned 'rendition'.
He politely raised concerns about "media reports suggesting violations of international law in the alleged US detention or transportation of terrorist suspects in or through EU member states."
Jack Straw has not, as far as I can see, ever said he was unaware of the existence of the policy. He has just never answered the question, and has always said that we know nothing about us being involved in it.
Blair has not aknowleged the use of British airports or airspace as Charles kennedy suggests in his letter. Blair dismissed these suggestions at PMQ. All Blair has done is acknowlege the existence of the US policy of Rendition.
He doged the question of British involvement in rendition at PMQ, but stood squarely behind Condi endorsing the practice as a valid tool in the war against terrorism. So presumably that answers the FAC's question about the government's position on the merits of the policy [above].
First, let me draw a very clear distinction indeed between the idea of suspects being taken from one country to another and any sense whatever that ourselves, the United States or anyone condones the use of torture. Torture cannot be justified in any set of circumstances at all. The practice of rendition as described by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been American policy for many years. We have not had such a situation here, but that has been American policy for many, many years. However, it must be applied in accordance with international conventions, and I accept entirely Secretary of State Rice's assurance that it has been.
In respect of airports, I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is referring to. In respect of the policy of rendition, it has been the policy of the American Government for many years.
The hon. Gentleman says, "Why?" It is as well to remember that we need to detain some of the people we are talking about for reasons of action against international terrorism. Some of those people are highly dangerous, and some of them can provide information that is of fundamental importance in preventing terrorism. Of course, there should be proper treatment of anyone who is detained, and I have already made it clear that, as far as I am aware, it is not an issue here. However, the American policy has been clear for ages. That is not a matter of contention, and I fully endorse what Secretary of State Rice said yesterday.
Jack Straw however, whilst doging questions about the existance and validity of Extraordinary Rendition has repeatedly answered the question about British involvement in the policy. The government position, or rather a government position is on the record.
The British Government has not received any requests, nor granted any permissions, for the use of UK territory or airspace for these purposes...
If the mounting evidence about the use of British airports and airspace as part of the US programme of Extraordinary Rendition forces Blair answer to any of Charlie's questions in the affirmitave, then rather than focussing on Jack's letter to Condi, the Lib Dem's should be asking why Jack Straw has repeatedly lied and misrepresented the government position to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Given the evidence, either the government are take the line they are incompetent and had no idea what was going on. Or they are caught in a lie.