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Leaked UK memo: extraordinary rendition illegal, but extent unclear

[JURIST] A leaked UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office [official website] memo says that while undertaking or cooperating with extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] of terror suspects to countries where they could face a real risk of torture could never be legal under UK law, the British government could not say that it had received no requests for such renditions and would prefer to focus on US assurances that it does not practice torture and respects its international obligations. The December 2005 memo [PDF text], reported in Thursday's edition of the New Statesman magazine, was passed from the Foreign Office to the Prime Minister's office and examines the legality of rendition and extraordinary rendition and discusses strategy for addressing allegations that the CIA operated secret rendition flights across Europe, including the UK. The memo defines extraordinary rendition as "the transfer of a person from one third country to another, in circumstances where there is a real risk (or even intention) that the individual will be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (CID)" and goes on to say that the practice "could never be legal, because this is clearly prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT)" [text]. According to the memo, if the UK were aware that the US were acting contrary to its international obligations, British cooperation with US rendition would be illegal.

In the absence of clear information on any US requests made to UK authorities (the memo describes the Home Office as "urgently examining their files"), or even on whether individuals captured by British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan might have been handed on to other US interrogation centers, the document directs senior officials' attention to statements made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly defending US rendition practices [JURIST report; transcript]. Earlier in December, Rice said that the US does not send suspects to countries where they believe the suspect will be tortured and noted that "Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured." The memo advises that the government should not "cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances" in light of its own deportation agreements with several countries known to use torture, including Lebanon and Libya [JURIST reports].

In a January 2006 statement to the House of Commons [text], British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that a British government records search had so far turned up only three US rendition requests to the UK [JURIST report], all made by the Clinton administration. Reuters has more. The Guardian has local coverage.

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