Straws Oral FAC Evidence


Straws Oral FAC Evidence
Tuesday 13 December 2005

Q21 Chairman: Now we are moving on.

Mr Straw: What are we moving on to?

Chairman: Rendition.

Q22 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary, we have seen positions changing slightly over the last few days. We have seen the statement by Condoleezza Rice admitting that the US have used rendition previously but denying any use of rendition for the purposes of torture, and in a reply to Ming Campbell, I think, yesterday it has been indicated that in the past there have been requests to ourselves for rendition. This is despite previous statements to the contrary that we were not aware of any such requests in the past. Can you give a categorical statement to this Committee now that this government is not involved in any type of rendition, that we are not assisting, with the Americans, in rendition of their suspects or their personnel and that we are definitely not involved in any rendition of anyone for the purposes of being taken to another country to a secret site, or whatever, for the purposes of torture?

Mr Straw: First of all on your last point, Eric, yes, I absolutely categorically can give you that undertaking. On the wider issue, rendition is a term of art which covers a variety of activities. At one end it could be used to include the transfer of a suspect, which happened on two occasions when I was Home Secretary, not Foreign Secretary, in 1998, as I drew to Ming Campbell's attention, where the United States were transferring an individual from a third country to the United States to face trial. They had assured us that, although there was not an extradition concerned, the transfer took place lawfully with the agreement both of the host country - the original country - and was consistent with the United States' law. Since also I was satisfied about the potential treatment of the suspects when they arrived at their destination, namely that they we were going for trial in the United States, I agreed that transfer. I do not remember it being called rendition, but it may have been. There was also, as I said to Ming in answer to his question, another case - we are still trying to pin down the records but it is in the recollection of the officials concerned and also broadly in my recollection that there was an application by the United States for transfer from the United States to a third country. I was not satisfied in that case that one could be guaranteed about the potential treatment of the suspect and so I refused the facilitation. Those three cases, there could possibly be a fourth, and the Home Office are checking, all happened under the Clinton administration. As I said in answer to the question from Ming, and it was based on very thorough research both from Foreign Office and Home Office files and other files, there is no record whatsoever of any request for what is now called rendition from the United States' government either to the United States or to a third country which we in the UK government have received either in respect of facilitation where the plane has landed or in respect of over flights. I also say to you two other things. First of all, had that happened through United Kingdom airspace or on United Kingdom territory, I expect that we would have received a request by the United States' government, because that has been their consistent practice, as is evidenced by what happened in 1998. The second thing I say is this. I wrote to Secretary Rice at the end of November after the General Affairs Council and the general discussion in the European Union raised concern about the reports that had been received. She responded to that request with a very detailed statement setting out the position of the United States government, and that set out, amongst many other things: "The United States has respected and will continue to respect the sovereignty of our countries. The United States does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture. The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured." So I hope the result both of what I have said in answer to Ming and what Secretary Rice has said to me in answer to my enquiry should provide serious reassurance to those who understandably have been worried about this in the reports.

Q27 Mr Purchase: None whatever?

Mr Straw: On the undertakings that Secretary Rice has given, nor do they exist as far as the United States is concerned. I think if someone of the position of Secretary Rice and her integrity makes statements like this they ought to be assumed to be correct. On the issue of obtaining evidence, intelligence, by torture, the position has been set out a number of times, but let me repeat it. We are against the use of torture. I am against the use of torture because it is torture and it is wholly immoral. There is a subsidiary reason why I am against the use of torture, which is that evidence obtained under torture is much less likely to be reliable and that is why British courts have always regarded evidence obtained in that way, whether it is obtained under torture or what is called duress, as unreliable, so we do not seek such evidence, we do not rely on it. I have never had piece of paper produced before me where on the rubric it says, "We believe this has been obtained under torture." The other problem about torture is that those who commit the torture deny it to themselves as much as they deny it to other people, so to track it is very difficult, but we are alive to those countries where we think malpractice of all kinds is used and we seek to deal with it.

Q28 Mr Purchase: The third question, if such information was offered?

Mr Straw: It comes to this. First of all, I do not think it ever will be offered, because I think, if you go through the list of countries where we and America and other leading human rights NGOs believe that the mistreatment of suspects takes place, I do not think you will find a single one of those countries which says it does take place. All of us, and this applies to everybody here in this room, I am quite sure, if we were offered a piece of intelligence which, for example, said there was going to be a terrorist outrage tomorrow and it appeared to be credible, we would be duty bound to act on that regardless of the provenance of it. Everybody understands that. We have to do that. At the same time we have to take account of our suspicions as to where it has come from and not ever either to authorise the use of torture in the obtaining of intelligence or to suggest that we are somehow complicit or accommodating to this, because we are not, and I am not. I am against it.

35 Chairman: But given that we have signed the Geneva Convention, given that we have signed conventions against torture in 1948, 1966, 1950 and 1984, you would confirm that any British official employed by her Majesty's Government in any sense involved in this practice or involved in the kind of action we are talking about in terms of rendition might well be in contradiction of the Geneva Convention and those other conventions we have signed?

Mr Straw: Plainly torture is illegal, complicity in torture is also illegal - it is illegal under our law and under international law - and so, if anybody were involved, they would be committing a criminal offence; but let us just come back to the reality of the way in which our intelligence and security agencies operate. They do not do this. I have been responsible for one or other of the three intelligence and security agency services over the last eight and a half years, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and I have never ever seen an allegation of this kind, but if there are allegations, of course they would be investigated, and there is appropriate parliamentary oversight of the intelligence and security services as well.

Q46 Richard Younger-Ross: You were very clear in your answer to my colleague, Paul Keetch, in regarding complicity as an offence as much as torture. The US seem to have changed the definition of what is a risk and international law, I understand, says that you shall not transfer someone to a country where there is a substantial ground to believe that there is torture. Can you say whether you support that as the correct definition?

Mr Straw: If you want to ask the United States government questions, ask them. I am responsible for our practice here. I thought Secretary Rice's statement, however, was very comprehensive and I invite you to read it. It sets out the position. She made it absolutely clear that the prohibition against United States personnel being involved in torture not only applied within the United States but across the rest of the world as well. She was absolutely explicit about this. She provided that clarification when she was in Kiev last Wednesday morning. Our position is the overriding moral position that torture is wrong. Leaving aside any international obligations we are under, I have made that position clear. Secondly, however, there is the Convention Against Torture. We apply it to its letter and its spirit.

Q50 Chairman: We have been using the word "torture" here. It is said that we have a different view in this country about rendition to the United States. Do we have a different definition of torture?

Mr Straw: No. "Torture" is clearly defined. There is also cruel and unusual punishment and general ill treatment.

Q51 Chairman: It has been reported that certain activities are permissible in the United States in interrogations which are not permissible in our definitions because the things done by the US are not defined by them as being torture.

Mr Straw: I think I know what you are talking about. I do not think either would be described as torture. I think it is about unfair treatment, less than torture. It is certainly the case that we pride ourselves in this country in being punctilious in the way in which we treat suspects and rightly so. I can get you a note on this.

Straws Oral FAC Evidence
Monday 24 October 2005

Q109 Richard Younger-Ross: Our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has stated in a document to us: "I can confirm it is a positive policy decision by the US and UK to use Uzbek torture material." He states that the evidence is that the aircraft that my colleague referred to earlier, the Gulfstreams, are taking detainees back to Uzbekistan who are then being tortured. Is that not some indication that these detainees are being transferred through the UK?

Mr Straw: It is Mr Murray's opinion. Mr Murray, as you may know, stood in my constituency. He got fewer votes than the British National Party, and notwithstanding the fact that he assured the widest possible audience within the constituency to his views about use of torture. I set out the British Government's position on this issue on a number of occasions, including in evidence both here and to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote a pretty detailed letter to a constituent of mine back in June, setting out our position. As I said there, there are no circumstances in which British officials use torture, nor any question of the British Government seeking to justify the use of torture. Again, the British Government, including the terrorist and security agencies, has never used torture for any purpose including for information, nor would we instigate or connive with others in doing so. People have to make their own judgment whether they think I am being accurate or not.

Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report
[from point 77 pulls the governments case that their hands are clean to pieces]
Summarises the points made in Oral evidence and the parliamentary Answers outlined previously.