‘170 CIA flights’ used UK airports

The government allowed 170 CIA flights carrying terror suspects to secret detention camps to stop over in the UK, MEPs have revealed.

An interim report from a temporary EU committee says a total of 1,245 CIA flights used European airspace or stopped in European airports to refuel, despite many member states’ insistence they knew nothing of the practice.

In the section about the UK, author Giovanni Claudio Fava, an Italian Socialist MEP, singles out Europe minister Geoff Hoon for condemnation. He says the committee “deplores” the way the minister cooperated with its investigations.

The report also says it is “outraged” by the assertion by the chief legal advisor to the Foreign Office, Michael Woods, that “receiving or possessing” information extracted under torture “is not per se prohibited” by the UN convention against torture.

Concerns about the practice of extraordinary rendition, when terror suspects are transported to a third country for questioning, were raised last year. They focused on the treatment of these suspects in the so-called secret prisons.

For the first time, the MEPs name the site of one prison, saying it is located in Start Kiejkuty in Poland. The Polish government has always denied hosting such prisons.

US president George Bush confirmed in September that extraordinary rendition was still being used but insisted torture was not. The British government has accepted this assurance and refused to launch an inquiry into the use of UK airports.

However, Mr Fava’s report says extraordinary rendition is an “illegal and systematic instrument” and anyway, it is “counterproductive” in tackling terror.

It says European countries have a duty to investigate allegations of human rights violations and calls for an independent probe into all CIA stopovers since 2001.

The Foreign Office refused to comment directly on the claim that 170 CIA flights had used British airports, but said it was important to distinguish between CIA charter flights and those transporting terror suspects seized overseas.

Ministers confirmed earlier this year that they had received four US requests by the CIA to use British airports since 1997. Two of these were refused and two, in 1998, were granted. These suspects had since been put on trial and convicted, a spokesman said.

Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Ludford said the “naming and shaming” of Mr Hoon showed the government’s “unhelpful attitude” that “prefers to leave unanswered the burning questions about its alleged complicity in CIA rendition and torture”.

The Foreign Office said Mr Hoon had met with the committee at their request and answered all their questions. However, Baroness Ludford, who is vice-chairwoman of the committee into extraordinary rendition, said MPs must hold ministers to account.

“If the EU’s aspirations to be a ‘human rights community’ have any meaning whatsoever, there must now be a forceful EU response to this strong evidence that the CIA abducted, illegally imprisoned and transported alleged terrorists in Europe while European governments, including the UK, turned a blind eye or actively colluded with the US,” she said.