Iraq Lawyer Says PM Could Be Prosecuted for Aiding CIA Torture Squads

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

Iraq Lawyer Says PM Could Be Prosecuted for Aiding CIA Torture Squads


Byline: ANDREW GILLIGAN

THE Government lawyer who resigned over Iraq today returns to the fray with a stinging attack on Britain's "unattractive" plans to deal with terror suspects and its reported "complicity" with torture.

In her first major interview, Elizabeth Wilmshurst warns that Britain could find itself in the dock under international law if "dreadful reports" of British involvement in the socalled practice of "extraordinary rendition" are correct.

Extraordinary rendition is when terror suspects are seized by the United States and transferred to third countries where they are tortured. As the Evening Standard first revealed in March, CIA-controlled aircraft used to transport the detainees to their torture chambers have made dozens of landings at British military and civilian airfields over the past few years.

Ms Wilmshurst's comments come from a Channel 4 Dispatches film I have made.

She says the reports about British involvement are "very worrying" and adds: "If it were the case that agents of the British Government knew about the extraordinary renditions, contrary to international law, and were actively engaged in assisting them, then we would be internationally responsible, which means we would be liable under international law."

Ms Wilmshurst is also deeply critical of government plans to deport foreign-born terror suspects from Britain to countries such as Jordan and Algeria where they may be tortured.

"Surely what the Government should be concentrating on is trying to stamp out torture as a whole in, for example, Jordan," she says. "What is unattractive is that we seem to be worried only

about torture or ill-treatment of the people we want to get rid of."

Ms Wilmshurst, former deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office, resigned on the eve of war in 2003. The invasion, she said in her resignation letter, amounted to a "crime of aggression ... detrimental to the international order and the rule of law".

Since her departure, she has kept a low profile. Now she has decided to speak to me on a different subject: the British Government's role in the "war on terror" and what she calls the horrible" and "dreadful" practice of "torture by proxy".

Extraordinary rendition can happen anywhere. I went to Milan where a man named Abu Omar was snatched, quite literally, as he was walking down the street, by a vanload of US secret agents. He was given a fast-acting drug, then driven straight to the local US airbase and packed on a plane to a torture chamber in Egypt. Nearly three years later, he's still in custody.

There's reason to suppose that Abu Omar was dangerous. He'd made unexplained trips to the Balkans during the Kosovo and Bosnia wars. He was suspected by the Italians of recruiting local Muslims for terror.

However, the Milan authorities are incandescent, with the CIA team which kidnapped Omar.

Because the Americans didn't just overturn the rule of law they wrecked an Italian operation against Omar which could have netted dozens of other terror suspects, and netted them legally, with evidence to use against them in court. …

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