UK/US: Revelations about detention flights in Diego Garcia highlight need for full inquiry

Further inquiries into allegations of rendition flights announced by the UK government should not be a substitute for a full, independent investigation into any other UK involvement in renditions, Amnesty international said following the admission by the US and UK governments that two rendition flights had landed in Diego Garcia in 2002.

“As recognized by the UK government, the revelation that US planes, involved in the transfers of detainees, landed in Diego Garcia  directly contradicts its own repeated assurances and public denials to the contrary. It highlights the need for full investigations into the USA’s detention and rendition practices and any involvement or complicity of European countries,” Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International said today.  

“European governments must now recognize that reliance on US assurances about renditions has been an inadequate response to an unlawful practice. The Diego Garcia admission must spur into action all European countries by initiating thorough, independent investigations. Governments must heed the calls by the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe and the European Parliament. They must also take immediate steps to ensure that the practice of rendition is not allowed to happen again.”

Renditions have involved the abduction of individuals, the illegal transfer of detainees, enforced disappearance, torture, and secret detention. These are violations of international human rights and domestic law. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the UK authorities to carry out an independent investigation into any UK involvement in the practice of rendition.

The admission by the UK authorities of having misled the parliament, international bodies and the public, as well as the government’s stated intention to carry out investigations into other alleged rendition flights is a positive step.

The UK authorities must now carry out a thorough, detailed and independent investigation into all reported flights of CIA-operated planes landing on UK territory or using UK airspace. They must also investigate any other official involvement in renditions, including any provision of information to foreign intelligence services.

The authorities must also seek full information from the USA about the past treatment and current circumstances of the two detainees who were on the planes which refuelled in Diego Garcia in 2002, and reconsider their position on not keeping records of flights landing in Diego Garcia.

“The time for full disclosure is long overdue. The drip drip of information that continues to emerge about the USA’s detention and rendition practices, and continuing revelations about the possible involvement of other governments, cries out for transparency and accountability,” Claudio Cordone said.

The organization also calls on the UK and other European governments, whose officials have been implicated in renditions, to prosecute anyone reasonably suspected of being responsible for human rights violations, including crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance; ensure the full accountability of national and foreign intelligence agencies; ensure that all victims obtain prompt and adequate reparation; and take effective measures to prevent any future involvement in renditions.

Background Amnesty International has been in correspondence with the current and previous UK Foreign Secretaries since February 2007, seeking an investigation into flight records which showed CIA-operated planes landing in Diego Garcia in 2002. Amnesty International also expressed grave concern at the failure of the UK authorities to keep records of flights in and out of Diego Garcia.

The previous Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, stated to Amnesty International that the UK government had received firm assurances from US officials in October 2006 that Diego Garcia had at NO TIME (underscored) been used for transfer of prisoners, nor had they transited through its airspace. Margaret Beckett also informed the organization that the UK does not routinely keep records of flights in and out of Diego Garcia. The current Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, repeated this assertion to the organization in October 2007, and that the UK government was satisfied with the US assurances.

The June 2007 report into renditions by the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights noted that the allegations surrounding the USA’s reported use of Diego Garcia for its rendition programme were “sufficiently serious to demand further investigation”.  However, the Committee was “not in a position to carry out adequate analysis in order to reach definitive conclusions”, in part due to the fact that the UK government had “readily accepted ‘assurances’ from US authorities … without ever independently or transparently inquiring into the allegations itself, or accounting to the public in a sufficiently thorough manner”.