Monday, February 25, 2008

Renditions row after CIA plane lands in UK

Renditions row after CIA plane lands in UK


By Duncan Gardham

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A fresh row erupted over the use of British air bases by US authorities as it emerged a plane used by the CIA has landed at an RAF airstrip in the past week.

A Gulfstream IV jet, identified by Amnesty International as a plane linked to the US intelligence agency, landed at RAF Northolt in west London.

The jet, registration N134BR, which flew from Morristown, New Jersey, to Britain, landed on Wednesday and returned on Friday. It was also seen at Luton airport in January.

The plane was listed in a 2006 report by Amnesty, which said it believed the aircraft was being used for the transfer of prisoners by the US. At the time, the Government admitted aircraft chartered by the CIA had landed 14 times at RAF Northolt and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire between October 2003 and May 2004, but denied they had been used in the practice of rendition.

There is no suggestion there were prisoners on board on this occasion but a new review of the so-called "torture flights" is taking place after David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, last week admitted to Parliament two flights had stopped at the British base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

A Foreign Office spokesman refused to comment on individual flights but said: "The two flights from the US already identified are the only ones we are aware of."

The practice of "rendition" involves the legal transfer of prisoners from country to country but "extraordinary rendition" involves by-passing the legal process to move prisoners, allegedly in order to facilitate torture.

Mr Miliband told the Commons last Thursday Diego Garcia had been used to refuel two "rendition'' flights. One flight stopped at Diego Garcia on the way to the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, while the other was bound for an unspecified country, possibly Morocco.

Mr Miliband said he was "very sorry indeed'' to have to correct previous statements made by Tony Blair and Jack Straw in 2005, 2006 and 2007 denying rendition flights had stopped on British soil.

The cases involving Diego Garcia had not been disclosed before due to an "error'' in an earlier US records search.

In each of the two cases, the aircraft involved had been carrying a single detainee - neither of them British - who did not leave the plane while it was at Diego Garcia.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "It should not be down to plane spotters and citizen activists to keep track of these activities."

"There should be a full and independent inquiry into this country's role in state-sponsored terrorism."

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