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UK minister admits UK involvement in US rendition program

[JURIST] UK Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton [official profile] gave a statement [MOD press release] to the UK House of Commons [official website] Thursday providing details of participation with US forces in the rendition of terrorism suspects from Iraq to US detention in Afghanistan, possibly by way of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program. Hutton's revelation comes after years of statements [BBC report] by UK officials, including to the House of Commons, that there had been no participation in the CIA program. In his statement [text], Hutton explained the circumstances of the transfer, saying:

In Iraq, we have reviewed the record of detainee numbers listing all individuals held in UK detention facilities... During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation conducted in February 2004. I am sure that hon. Members will recall that that period saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. During the operation, two individuals were captured by UK forces in and around Baghdad. They were transferred to US detention, in accordance with normal practice, and subsequently moved to a US detention facility in Afghanistan.

This information was brought to my attention on 1 December 2008, and I instructed officials to investigate the case thoroughly and quickly so that I could bring a full account to Parliament. Following consultations with US authorities, we confirmed that they transferred the two individuals from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2004 and they remain in custody there today.

I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my Department. However, I want to stress that that was based upon the information available to Ministers and those who were briefing them at that time. My predecessors as Secretaries of State for Defence have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events. I have written to the hon. Members concerned correcting the record, and am placing a copy of these letters also in the Library of the House. Again, I want to apologise to the House for these errors.

In September 2008, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition (APPG) [official website] released a legal opinion examining UK governmental liability [JURIST report] for participation in the US rendition program. The APPG was convened in December 2005 [JURIST report] to call for a formal inquiry into whether the British government violated international law by aiding CIA rendition flights. In July, the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee called "deplorable" [JURIST report] what it termed "false US assurances" about extraordinary rendition flights through the UK Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. In July 2007, the UK Intelligence and Security Committee said it had found no evidence [JURIST report] of direct UK involvement in the operation of the extraordinary rendition flights through UK airspace, but said that the United States' lack of regard for UK concerns in the war on terror had "serious implications for the working of the relationship between the US and UK intelligence and security agencies."

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