Who would you rather believe when it comes to "extraordinary rendition" – the British government and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) or the respected human rights body, the Council of Europe (CoE)? New Labour’s denial that British airports were used by the CIA for refuelling en route to torture camps is worthless. ACPO’s endorsement only shows that the police are lying too on behalf of their paymasters. The ACPO statement has been described as "miraculous" in its timing, for it appeared just as a CoE report was published showing how the CIA ran torture prisons in Poland and Romania after 9/11, with Britain providing support by allowing the agency’s planes to land at military and civilian airports. ACPO’s spin on behalf of New Labour is flatly contradicted by recent events. On 2 June a plane repeatedly linked to CIA torture flights was spotted at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. Watching aviation experts said the aircraft, piloted by crew clad in desert fatigues, was immediately surrounded on the runway by armed American guards. Its registration number identifies it as a plane which the European Parliament says has been involved in "ghost flights" to smuggle terrorist suspects to torture camps around the world. The American Federal Aviation Authority lists the plane as being operated by two companies, Aviation World Wide Services and a sister company, Presidential Airways. These are shell companies operating as subsidiaries of Blackwater USA, "an important contractor for the CIA and the US military", according to the European Parliament. A recent book on Blackwater by American author Jeremy Scahill, described the company as the world's "most secretive and powerful mercenary firm". It was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a fundamentalist Christian millionaire.
The CoE dossier, compiled by Swiss senator Dick Marty, said the US had used Britain's help to establish a "global spider's web" of jails and airports to pursue a war on terror without rules. So-called US "high-value" detainees (HVD) were held in secret CIA detention centres in Poland and Romania between 2002 and 2005. It describes in detail the scope and functioning of the US’s HVD programme, which it says was set up by the CIA "with the co-operation of official European partners belonging to government services". A secret agreement between the US and NATO allies in October 2001 provided the framework for the CIA to do its dirty business in Europe. The programme "has given rise to repeated serious breaches of human rights", the report by the CoE’s parliamentary committee declared, including the torture of detainees. The report said that only Bosnia and Herzegovina and Canada, a Council of Europe observer state, had fully acknowledged their responsibilities with regard to the unlawful transfers of detainees. Marty said: "The fight against terrorism must not serve as an excuse for systematic recourse to illegal acts, massive violation of fundamental human rights and contempt for the rule of law. I hold this view not only because methods of this nature conflict with the constitutional order of all civilised countries and are ethically unacceptable, but also because they are not effective from the perspective of a genuine long-term response to terrorism." His report, which is worth reading in full, contrasts with the statement from the British Foreign Office, which said: "We have been through the records, and there is no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK since 1997." Who would you rather believe?
Paul Feldman, communications editor