After years of complete denials, the British Government today acknowledged that it had been complicit in the American extraordinary renditions program on at least one occasion. The Guardian reports:
The government admitted today that British troops in Iraq handed over terror suspects to the US, which then secretly rendered them to a prison in Afghanistan. After a year of allegations and repeated ministerial assurances to the contrary, the admission was made in the Commons by John Hutton, the defence secretary, who apologised to MPs for inaccurate information ministers had previously given them.
He said British soldiers, believed to have been SAS troops, handed over two terrorist suspects to the US in Iraq in February 2004. The men had been captured outside the UK-controlled zone covering south-eastern Iraq. Hutton said the pair, believed to be Pakistanis, were still being held in Afghanistan. He said they were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned organisation that he said was linked to al-Qaida. The US had assured Britain the two continued to represent “significant security concerns” and it was “neither possible or desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or country of origin”, Hutton told MPs.
On March 19, 2004, soon after the incident reported by the British Government today, Jack Goldsmith issued an Office of Legal Counsel opinion arguing that notwithstanding the provisions of article 49 of the Third Geneva Convention, the CIA could remove detainees held in Iraq “for a brief but not indefinite period” to an undisclosed foreign site. The memo’s conclusions have been heavily criticized and are almost certainly incorrect as a legal matter. Goldsmith is now a professor at Harvard Law School who has vigorously opposed any investigation of the Bush Administration’s torture and renditions policies—investigations which could come to a focus on his handiwork. Thus it seems a fair question: Is there a connection between the British rendition of the Pakistanis in Iraq and the Goldsmith memorandum?