Blair rejects CIA rendition claims

Tony Blair has dismissed a report accusing Britain of being one of 14 European countries colluding with US intelligence services in transporting terror suspects across the world.

The prime minister said the Council of Europe report “adds absolutely nothing new” to previous claims about the CIA’s use of European airports to transport terror suspects to countries where they may face torture.

“We have said absolutely all we will on this and I have nothing to add. The Council of Europe report adds absolutely nothing new to that,” Mr Blair told MPs.

The claims about so-called extraordinary rendition began in November last year, when Human Rights Watch said it had proof the CIA was conducting “enhanced interrogation techniques” on prisoners in secret detention centres in Europe.

Today’s report, compiled by Dick Marty, finds a number of European countries could be found guilty of colluding in these so-called rendition flights, by either failing to object to the CIA using their airspace or actively helping them.

He admits he does not have proof “in the classical sense of the word” that the detention centres exist, but insists that a “number of coherent and converging elements”, such as flight data and sources from within various intelligence agencies, point that way.

He singles out Romania and Poland as allowing these ‘dark prisons’ to exist on their territory. Mr Marty says flight records and other evidence suggest landings in these countries “are detainee drop-off points that are near to secret detention centres”.

All the countries named in the report deny the allegations, but Mr Marty concludes: “It is now clear – although we are still far from having established the whole truth – that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities.

“Other countries ignored them knowingly, or did not want to know.”

In Britain’s case, the government is accused of allowing “stopovers” for flights to refuel – it names Glasgow Prestwick and Bangor as two airports used for such a purpose – but also accuses it of providing intelligence on certain individuals to the CIA.

The government has always denied the allegations – although it accepts the policy of rendition to move suspects around the globe has existed for years, it accepts Washington’s assurances that the individuals involved are not being tortured.

Earlier this year, then foreign secretary Jack Straw confirmed that four requests had been received from the US to use British airspace for rendition since 1997 – two were accepted and two were rejected.

But the government has resisted calls for an inquiry into the claims, and today, responding to questions put by the Liberal Democrats, Mr Blair made clear he believed the latest report did not change his position.