The UK has admitted that the US used British territory to transport terror suspects on controversial "rendition flights" run by the CIA. The US has not denied the claims, saying "mistakes had been made" in not notifying their ally.
Britain was forced to admit Thursday to the use of its territory by two US planes carrying terror suspects on "rendition" flights and the White House said "mistakes" were made in the offical record.
Britain has always denied any involvement in so-called "extraordinary rendition" operations run by the CIA, but Foreign Secretary Miliband apologised to parliament after a US "record error" came to light.
Miliband said new information showed that two flights, each with one suspect on board, refuelled at the US air base on the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia in 2002.
His apology prompted some lawmakers to accuse Washington of lying to its closest ally in the "war on terror," while legal and civil liberties groups called for a full-scale inquiry.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was disappointed by the US error.
"It is obviously a very serious issue," Brown told a news conference on a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels.
"The United States has expressed regret about us not knowing about these issues. We share the disappointment that everybody has about what actually happened.
"I think the important thing is now that we put in place the best possible procedures to ensure that this could not happen again," he said.
The White House acknowledged its fault, but stressed there would be no impact of counter-terrorism cooperation with Britain.
"It's unfortunate mistakes were made in the reporting of the information," said national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who referred follow-up questions to the CIA.
One of the prisoners involved in the rendition flights is still being held at the US-run detention camp at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba while the other has since been released.
Extraordinary rendition, whereby suspects are transferred covertly to a third country or to US-run detention centres, has been controversial since it began in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Human rights groups say it allows prisoners to be transferred outside the rule of law and exposes them to the risk of torture.
A 2006 Council of Europe report named Britain among 14 European nations which it said had turned a "blind eye" to the practice by allowing the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flights to use their airspace or airfields. The British government denied it at the time.
Miliband told MPs that the government had accepted previous US assurances that British soil was not used "in good faith".
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shared his "deep regret" at the late development, he said, adding that further checks would now be made of other flights to ensure they had not been used for rendition, he added.
British lawmakers were unhappy. Some, including the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesmen, called for further assurances that Britain had not helped facilitate torture such as water-boarding.
The head of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Mike Gapes, said the US government had "clearly misled or lied to our government" while ex-Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell said Britain had no control over Diego Garcia.
Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos Islands group and is leased to Washington until 2016. It has been used as a launchpad for US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The British director of human rights group Amnesty International, Kate Allen, welcomed Miliband's apology but said it was "not enough" for the government to accept US assurances on correct behaviour in the war on terror.
"We should retain our own integrity and act accordingly," she said, as another watchdog, Human Rights Watch, asked: "How many other times did the US fail to inform the British government?"
Reprieve, a legal charity that represents some of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, said it wanted a "fully transparent and independent inquiry" into Diego Garcia's role in the CIA's rendition programme.
"We now know for sure that British territory has been used to support the CIA’s illegal, repugnant system of kidnap and torture," said director Clive Stafford Smith.
Date created : 2008-02-21