03-30-2006, 07:38 PM
By HANNAH K. STRANGE
UPI U.K. Correspondent
LONDON, March 29 (UPI) -- The British government is facing fresh questions over its role in U.S. renditions of terror suspects, after court documents emerged indicating that CIA officers who seized two British residents and rendered them to Guantanamo Bay were acting on a tip-off from MI5.
Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Renditions heard evidence Tuesday night from the lawyers and relatives of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who have been held in the U.S. detention camp for three years following their seizure in Gambia in November 2002.
Lawyers for the men and a third British resident, Libyan-born Omar Deghayes, have brought a high court challenge to force the British government to petition for their release from Guantanamo. In a foreign policy U-turn, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agreed Tuesday to intervene on behalf of al-Rawi, but only after the court heard claims that the Iraqi-born businessman was an MI5 informer.
According to court documents released Monday night, MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, tipped off the CIA that al-Rawi and his Jordanian-born business partner el-Banna were carrying bomb parts on a flight to Gambia despite already knowing that the item in question was simply a cell phone charger.
The men were seized in November 2002 at Banjul airport in the Gambia after MI5 passed their travel details to the CIA. They had previously been detained by British officials at Gatwick, but were released.
An MI5 telegram sent on Nov. 1, 2002 to a "foreign intelligence agency" said the men were in possession of an "electronic device" which could be part of an improvised explosive device. The British government does not deny this agency was the CIA.
Yet in a memo to the Foreign Office 10 days later, MI5 stated that the men had been released "after it was assessed that this item was a commercially available battery charger that had been modified by Bisher al-Rawi in order to make it more powerful." There is no evidence that this assessment was ever passed to the CIA.
The court documents also reveal the agency's assessment that the two men were traveling to the country with the genuine intention of setting up a peanut oil business. An MI5 officer told el-Banna that he "should be able to travel (to Gambia) without a problem."
Tuesday, the court heard that al-Rawi, who came to Britain with his family in 1985 after his father came under suspicion of the Saddam Hussein regime, had passed information to MI5 about radical cleric Abu Qatada, currently in Britain's Belmarsh prison awaiting deportation.
According to statements submitted to the court, al-Rawi and al-Banna were alleged to have been associated with al-Qaida through a connection with Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born British resident described by a judge in 2004 as a "key U.K. figure" in al-Qaida-related terrorist activity.
However al-Rawi has always maintained that contact was "expressly approved and encouraged by British intelligence," to whom he supplied information about the cleric.
The British government maintains as a matter of policy that it will only make representations on behalf of British nationals in such cases. Its agreement to make an exception for al-Rawi, but not el-Banna or Deghayes, was described by lawyers for the men as an attempt to avoid publication of sensitive details of al-Rawi's relationship with MI5.
They argued that the government should now intercede on behalf of all three men, who are alleged to have been "severely tortured and suffered inhuman and degrading treatment" at the U.S. camp.
In an interview published by the Independent newspaper Wednesday, Bisher al-Rawi's brother Wahab, who was also seized by the CIA in the Gambia but released apparently because he holds British citizenship, said that U.S. interrogators had told him the British were directly responsible for his detention.
He said that soon after being seized he asked to see a representative from the British High Commission in the Gambia but was told by the Americans: "Who do you do think ordered your arrest in the first place? They don't want to talk to you."
The disclosures came as the group Caged Prisoners claimed evidence of British involvement in "illegal acts of rendition" by the United States.
In a report released Tuesday, the group alleges that Britain collaborated with the United States in the torture or rendition of 17 of its own citizens or residents, and knowingly allowed CIA rendition flights to pass through its territory, despite official denials.
The report says the security services passed "misinformation" to foreign intelligence agencies which was then used to detain and torture people from Britain. It also accuses intelligence services of involvement in "interrogations of detainees where abuse and torture (were used)" in countries including Morocco, Pakistan and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.
El-Banna, al-Rawi and Deghayes are included among Muslim men who Caged Prisoners says were subjected to a "subterranean system of kidnappings, ghosted to black sites, suffering abuse and torture," with the cooperation of the Blair government.
Deghayes claims that after being seized by bounty hunters in Pakistan, he was questioned by British officers before being rendered by the United States to Afghanistan and later Guantanamo.
Al-Rawi said in a statement from Guantanamo that he had been dressed in nappies and hooded and shackled for his transfer from Gambia by CIA officers on Dec. 8 2002. He and el-Banna were taken to Kabul, Afghanistan and detained in the so-called "Dark Prison," where prisoners have reported being held in total darkness and subjected to continuous loud music.
His account is corroborated by flight logs obtained by the Guardian which detail the arrival at the Gambia's Banjul airport of a Gulfstream V jet, registration N379P from Washington on that day. The plane flew to Kabul the next day via Cairo.
The revelations have sparked a fresh round of questions as to the extent of British involvement in U.S. renditions, which ministers have consistently denied.
Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, said the allegation that the British government may have assisted the United States in rendering individuals to places where they suffered inhuman treatment or torture was "a grave one."
"Without respect for the law, Tony Blair's and George Bush's calls for the extension of democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere are meaningless."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the prominent human rights group Liberty, called on Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to press Condoleezza Rice on allegations that rendition flights passed through British territory, saying her assurances thus far had been inadequate.
03-31-2006, 07:42 AM
Originally Posted by Fight&Die4Allah
So, if I have understood this properly, the British government had intelligence on two men they thought had al-Qaeda ties, and they shared this information with the Americans, and they seem to have told the Americans where they could find these two men. Is that right?
Exactly what is wrong with this? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
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