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19 Aug, 2014 12:55

UK ambassador ‘lobbied’ US senators to obscure Britain’s complicity in CIA rendition program

UK ambassador ‘lobbied’ US senators to obscure Britain’s complicity in CIA rendition program

Records published under Britain’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act have compounded concerns that the UK government lobbied US officials to keep Britain’s role in CIA torture and rendition out of a soon-to-be published Senate report.

Newly-released data reveals Britain’s ambassador to the US, Peter Westmacott, engaged in at least 21 separate meetings with members of the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) prior to its publication of this report, heightening existing allegations that the British government may be seeking to sanitize the document.

Westmacott met with key Democrats and Republicans on the SSCI throughout the body’s investigation of the CIA program, records obtained by the UK legal charity Reprieve reveal.

Of particular note are two separate meetings with Senator Feinstein in the immediate aftermath of the US government’s decision to publish what is expected to be a damning report on CIA torture, interrogation and rendition.

Concerns have arisen Britain’s US ambassador may have tried to lobby Senator Diane Feinstein in an effort to censor Britain's role in CIA rendition out of a soon-to-published Senate report. (AFP Photo / Bremdan Smialowski)

Multiple leaks concerning the Senate’s findings have thus far indicated the document will unveil new information relating to Britain’s collaborative role in the program, particularly with respect to the US’ use of British foreign territory Diego Garcia to transfer detainees via rendition flights.

In early April, it emerged that the Senate’s investigation had uncovered CIA detention of core suspects on the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia – a territory that has long been leased by the UK as a military base to the US. The Senate’s findings, in their leaked form, contradicted a serious of UK government denials that Britain presided over the CIA’s use of Diego Garcia for its extraordinary rendition program.

Following these revelations, several human rights groups have publicly said Diego Garcia played a crucial role in CIA extraordinary rendition – a program of moving terrorist suspects to covert prisons around the world in the absence of legislative oversight.

In light of leaked data from the Senate’s investigation and escalating criticism from NGOs, the UK government has faced mounting pressure to reveal the full extent of Britain’s role in the contentious CIA program – specifically with respect to its alleged complicity in the running of a covert black site prison at Diego Garcia.

Leaked accounts of the Senate’s investigation findings indicate Britain collaborated in the CIA's extraordinary rendition program - particularly with respect to the US’ use of UK territory, Diego Garcia. (Reuters)

But it appears the government’s response to calls for transparency has culminated in increased efforts to lobby for censorship of the Senate’s findings.

Despite Westmacott’s nearly two dozen official meetings with SSCI officials prior to the release of the US’ CIA rendition report, Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) also admitted these records only pertain to official meetings.

The FCO emphasizes the list of meetings published is not “exhaustive” and does not indicate “brush-by meetings” or those incidences when Westmacott may have “attended the same events” as these SSCI members.

Former Foreign Secretary William Hague previously conceded the British government had discussed the issue of “UK material” in the SSCI’s torture report with US officials. In an official letter to Reprieve, Hague revealed the UK government had sought “assurance” that the Senate Committee would follow protocol in insuring material in which the UK is implicated be cleared by UK officials prior to its release.

Following recent revelations pertaining to Westmacott’s regular meetings with SCCI members, Reprieve’s executive director, Clare Algar, warned the logs uncovered further evidence of “desperate attempts” carried out by the British government to “censor the Senate’s report on CIA torture.”

The UK government was “up to its neck in the CIA’s program of rendition and torture – making it highly likely that the Senate’s report will contain information that is deeply embarrassing for them,” Algar emphasized.

UK ambassador 'lobbied senators to hide Diego Garcia role in @CIA rendition': http://t.co/e3HrEuyEIA

— Reprieve (@ReprieveUK) August 17, 2014

Algar subsequently called for a dramatic policy shift in Westminster with respect to Britain’s role in CIA rendition, urging ministers to endorse the publication of the torture report in the most transparent form possible.

Confirmation that a British-owned territory was explicitly implicated in severe violations of human rights common to extraordinary rendition could expose the government to legal action. In July, the European court of human rights ruled Polish government officials had actively facilitated the CIA’s European secret prison program.

Gareth Peirce, a lawyer for several Guantanamo detainees, said the British government must come clean on the government’s alleged involvement in the rendition program.

“All relevant treaties, UN mandates and an ever-increasing body of authoritative court rulings demand that investigations into suspected state involvement in the mechanisms of torture, including rendition, be speedy, transparent and far-reaching," she said