UK aided US in rendition, Hutton admits

By Alex Stevenson

UK armed forces should have been more suspicious when two suspected insurgents in Iraq handed over to US forces were taken to Afghanistan, defence secretary John Hutton has admitted.

In an urgent statement to MPs he said the two insurgents, captured by British forces in February 2004, were rendered for detention in Afghanistan after they were passed to US control. The pair remain in Afghanistan.

“In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time,” Mr Hutton told the Commons.

“We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US government and they have reassured us about their treatment but confirmed that as they continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible or desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or country of origin.”

The US military claimed the pair were sent to Afghanistan because there was a shortage of linguists necessary to “interrogate them effectively” in Iraq. The British government has accepted US assurances about the legality of their treatment.

Mr Hutton said the two detainees were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation with links to al-Qaida.

It has now been established that UK government officials were aware of the transfer in early 2004. The case was brought to Mr Hutton’s attention on December 1st last year.

The defence secretary was forced to apologise to the Commons over inaccuracies given in previous answers to MPs’ questions. Previous estimates of the number of detainees held by UK forces since January 2004 were overstated by around 1,000.

Shadow defence minister Crispin Blunt said Mr Hutton’s decision to raise the matter to the Commons reflected the gravity of the case.

The revelations come at a bad time for the government, which is facing allegations of complicity in torture carried out against detained terror suspects by the US. These are currently being independently investigated.