What did the government know about the US using British airports to transport terror suspects? Here is what was said by Tony Blair, in his own words:
7 DECEMBER 2005, PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS
Charles Kennedy (then Liberal Democrat leader): "The United States Secretary of State said yesterday that "extraordinary rendition" had been conducted in co-operation with European Governments. To what extent, therefore, have the Government co-operated in the transport of terrorist suspects to Afghanistan and elsewhere, apparently for torture purposes?"
Prime Minister Tony Blair: "First, let me draw a very clear distinction indeed between the idea of suspects being taken from one country to another and any sense whatever that ourselves, the United States or anyone condones the use of torture. Torture cannot be justified in any set of circumstances at all. The practice of rendition as described by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been American policy for many years. We have not had such a situation here, but that has been American policy for many, many years. However, it must be applied in accordance with international conventions, and I accept entirely Secretary of State Rice's assurance that it has been."
Mr Kennedy: "Given that assurance, can the Prime Minister therefore explain why the published evidence shows that almost 400 flights have passed through 18 British airports in the period of concern? When was he as Prime Minister first made aware of that policy, and when did he approve it?"
Mr Blair: In respect of airports, I do not know what the right honourable gentleman is referring to. In respect of the policy of rendition, it has been the policy of the American Government for many years.
14 DECEMBER, PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS
Charles Kennedy: "Last week, the Prime Minister acknowledged that he had been aware of the United States' policy of rendition for quite some time. If terrorist suspects are not being transported to a third country for the purposes of torture or mistreatment, will he explain to the House for what purpose they are being transported?"
Tony Blair: "First, let me again make it clear to the right honourable gentleman that this government are completely and totally opposed to torture or ill-treatment in any set of circumstances. Our country is a signatory to the United Nations convention against the use of torture, and we will continue to uphold its provisions absolutely. Rendition does not simply apply in those circumstances; it can apply in other circumstances, as the United States Secretary of State has made clear. To be fair, they have also said that they are totally opposed to the use of torture or ill-treatment in any circumstances."
Mr Kennedy: "In welcoming precisely what the Prime Minister has just said, does he not therefore acknowledge that our country is surely under a legal and moral obligation to investigate why flights are being allowed to pass through our country for rendition purposes? Full inquiries are now taking place in Italy, Spain, Germany and Canada? Why are they not taking place in the United Kingdom?"
Mr Blair: "My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has just passed me a copy of his parliamentary answer from, I think, a few days ago, which states:
'Careful research by officials has been unable to identify any occasions since 11 September 2001, or earlier in the Bush Administration, when we received a request for permission by the United States for a rendition through UK territory or airspace, nor are we otherwise aware of such a case.'
On United States Government flights coming in and out, those take place for a whole series of reasons. We receive visits from people from the United States Government the entire time.¿[Interruption.] I have to say that the Liberal Democrats are quite extraordinary sometimes. The idea that we should investigate every time that a United States Government plane flies into this country is completely absurd."
22 DECEMBER, PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE
Question: "Prime Minister, speaking of European leaders who have expressed ignorance of the American practice of shipping prisoners back and forth through airports in Britain and Europe to countries that may practise torture, Colin Powell said this week: 'Most of our European friends cannot be shocked that this kind of thing takes place. The fact is that we have over the years had in place procedures that would deal with people who are responsible for terrorist activities, and so the thing that is called rendition is not something that is new or unknown to my European friends.' Now that you know, do you approve it or will you stop it?"
Mr Blair: "Well it all depends on what you mean by rendition. If it is something that is unlawful I totally disapprove of it; if it is lawful, I don't disapprove of it. And I think Jack Straw indicated in his parliamentary answers, in fact I think on radio as well, a case back I think in 1998 when a request had been made to us. Now I don't know whether you would define that as rendition or not, all I know is that we should keep within the law at all times, and the notion that I, or the Americans, or anybody else approve or condone torture, or ill treatment, or degrading treatment, that is completely and totally out of order in any set of circumstances.
Question: But should you not therefore investigate the charges that have been levelled by ...
Mr Blair: Investigate what?
Question: Well Amnesty International, a number of politicians in the House of Commons have come up and furnished you with flight details and the rest of it and asked for an inquiry. Given that you are concerned that if it is illegal you would want to stop it, should you not find out whether it is illegal?
Mr Blair: I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all, and I am not going to start ordering inquiries into this, that and the next thing, when I have got no evidence to show whether this is right or not. And I honestly, it is like all this stuff about camps in Europe or something, I don't know, I have never heard of such a thing, I can't tell you whether such a thing exists.
Question: Are you not going to find out? Surely, by which we will be judged.
Mr Blair: All I know is that the American practice of in certain circumstances, with the consent of the country concerned, taking someone and either removing them to another country or back to the United States, that is a practice that they have avowed, never mind admitted, for a long period of time. But you know it is not something that I have ever actually come across until this whole thing has blown up, and I don't know anything about it, and the reason why I am not going to start ordering inquiries is that I can't see a reason for doing it, I am afraid.