Reprieve, Liberty question UK Govt’s role in CIA torture flights

The British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has come under fire from civil rights organisations for allegedly failing to investigate claims of Government ministers’ involvement in ‘torture flights’.

Civil rights organisations Reprieve and Liberty claim that an investigation by the European Parliament, which begins this month (October), will table evidence that could see senior UK politicians facing prosecution.

The claim surrounds the issue of CIA flights in European airspace between 2001 and 2006, in which terrorist suspects were flown to CIA prison camps, allegedly for torture.

Under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, which prohibits not only torture, but also degrading or inhuman treatment, UK authorities could face prosecution if they are found to have allowed prisoners likely to face such treatment to be flown through UK airports or airspace.

Public debate over the alleged ‘torture flights’ was reignited last month following the emergence of US flight logs confirming CIA flights through European airspace and airports. The matter was exacerbated further by President Bush’s admission on 7 September that secret CIA camps exist and are yet to be shut down.

Zachary Katznelson, in-house lawyer at Reprieve, said: “The CPS should be reviewing the flight logs and interviewing the people in the British Government involved.

“The more evidence there is, the more the responsibility grows. It would be a complete failure of the prosecution service not to investigate this and their failure to do so now must be political.”

Liberty has asked the West Midlands police, where many of the UK residents taken by the CIA lived, to explore the role of those flights in the torture of terrorist suspects last year. But to date no proceedings have begun.

Hearings in the European Parliament investigation relating to the use of UK airports will be held over the next two months in the parliament’s UK office in Westminster.

Lawyers testifying include Reprieve’s legal director Clive Stafford Smith, civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce and US attorney George Brent Mickum, all of whom have represented UK residents in CIA custody in the camps.

Interrogation methods alleged to have been used in the camps include severe beatings, extremes of temperature in which two men are said to have died, and ‘water-boarding,’ a practice involving asphyxiation.

It is also alleged that the CIA has flown terrorist suspects to US-friendly states, including Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, which use torture in their interrogations.