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Tony Blair 'was fully aware' of CIA kidnap and torture program

Published time: April 06, 2014 17:23
Edited time: June 27, 2014 08:27
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (Reuters / Thierry Roge)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (Reuters / Thierry Roge)

Former British PM Tony Blair was fully informed “every step of the way” about details of the CIA’s secret interrogation program, developed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and “knew about everything” including torture, states a new report.

Blair and then-foreign secretary Jack Straw were repeatedly briefed by MI6 and took an ‘active interest’ in the program, according to an anonymous security source who spoke to the Telegraph.

The source said it was laughable to suggest any approval for UK security service cooperation with the CIA program was only approved by Straw.

“The politicians took a very active interest indeed. They wanted to know everything. The Americans passed over the legal opinions saying that this was now 'legal,’ and our politicians were aware of what was going on at the highest possible level,” the source said.

“The politicians knew in detail about everything – the torture and the rendition. They could have said [to M16] 'stop it, do not get involved’, but at no time did they,” they added, appearing to contradict numerous previous statements made by UK officials.

After 9/11, the CIA launched its rendition program, involving global kidnap, detention and torture operations. It emerged at the beginning of 2013 that at least 54 countries – many European – had acted in cooperation with the US and several of them were European.

Even in 2006 it was being reported that it was “highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware of the 'rendition' of more than a hundred persons affecting Europe.”

Scotland Yard is continuing to investigate whether MI6 officers are to face prosecution over alleged complicity in renditions, including the cases of two Islamists from Libya who were sent back to the country in 2004 and were subjected to torture.

The investigation began in January 2012 after documents were unearthed suggesting that former MI6 head of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, was complicit in the rendition of one of the suspects, Abdel Hakim Belhadj.

Belhadj sued Straw and MI6 but his case was thrown out last December. While the High Court Judge noted that his claims were well founded, he also said that pursuing it could damage UK-US relations. Belhadj reiterated his commitment to seeking an apology this week.

Since the Scotland Yard investigation began, MI6 has handed over top secret documents from the period to police. It remains unclear whether Straw has been subjected to questioning over his role in the alleged extraordinary rendition of Islamists.

British soldiers take cover as they shelter from a controlled explosion of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in a village of Sayedebad District, Nad e Ali, Helmand Province on July 31, 2010 (AFP Photo / Ministry of Defence / Corporal Barry Lloyd RLC)

In January the same year, he told the Independent that “we [foreign secretaries] were opposed to unlawful rendition, opposed to torture or similar methods and not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it, nor did we turn a blind eye to it,” adding that “No foreign secretary can know all the details of what intelligence services are doing at any one time.”

However, the Telegraph source added that “the understanding at SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] was it was acting in the 'national interest’ and with clear political approval.”

In 2009, former ambassador to Uzbekistan and former Rector of the University of Dundee, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that:

“When in early March 2003, at the meeting in London, I was told that it was now policy to accept intelligence that may have been obtained from torture I was very surprised. I was told directly that that had been agreed, that it had the authority of the secretary of state and had come from Jack Straw. I was told that he had discussed it at a meeting with Sir Richard Dearlove.”

However, he did state that while a CIA operative had been in attendance at an interrogation session and MI6 had received information via the CIA, there had “on occasion” been instructions not to use evidence obtained through torture.

Dearlove was head of MI6 from 1999-2004 and made comments in 2012 declaring that MI6 cooperation with CIA rendition was a political decision.

“Tony Blair absolutely knew, Dearlove was briefing him all the time. He was meticulous about keeping the politicians informed. Whether there was anything in writing, well that is a different matter,” the Telegraph source stated.

While the UK government has never issued apologies to victims or shouldered responsibility for its complicity in rendition and torture, there have been numerous “no fault” payouts to rendition victims.

This week, members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee called for declassifying sections of a 6,300 page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. The demands came days after contents of the report were leaked, showing the CIA lied about their tactics’ efficacy.

“The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, said in a statement on Thursday.

“The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”