The UK government has never been decisive when it comes to Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean territory leased to the US which has been implicated in the CIA's torture and rendition programme. First extraordinary rendition flights weren't landing there, and then they were. Next a Foreign Office minister said flight logs detailing the CIA's global abduction operation had been destroyed by "extremely heavy weather", then they'd dried out.
Now the UK Foreign Office's own records, released last month under Freedom of Information laws, have confirmed that the "extremely heavy weather" amounted to 3.25 inches of rain.That was actually a dry June for Diego Garcia, where that month sees an average of 5.4 inches of rain - again, according to the Foreign Office. It was also an exceptionally dry month of the year, given the atoll's annual average of about 100 inches of rainfall.Former minister Mark Simmonds told the British parliament in July that Diego Garcia flight logs were damaged by "extremely heavy weather in June 2014."Mr Simmonds resigned as a Foreign Office minister in August because, he said, his salary and expenses package of £120,000 was too small to support his family in London.When contacted by VICE News, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: "I don't think it's very helpful for us to have a discussion about how much rain is a lot of rain."They also released a statement that said: "BIOT [British Indian Ocean Territory] immigration officials conducted a fuller inspection, and previously wet paper records have been dried out. They report that no flight records have been lost as a result of the water damage."The disclosures are the latest developments in a row over British complicity in the CIA's extraordinary rendition program stretching back over a decade. Campaigners claim that Diego Garcia was used as a terrorist detention centre by the US.
In April sources told Al Jazeera that a forthcoming US Senate Intelligence Committee report stated that the British gave "full co-operation" for a CIA "black site" prison on Diego Garcia.But as rumours swirl that the US and UK governments at least discussed the legality of using Diego Garcia as a "black site" for extraordinary rendition post 9/11, the former attorney general has said he cannot remember whether the issue came up in his tenure as most senior legal advisor to Tony Blair.Lord Goldsmith told VICE News that he had "no recollection" of whether discussions took place between the UK and US governments over the legality of using Diego Garcia as a black site.But he added: "I can confirm that if they had taken place the UK would have refused consent."The UK government has always maintained it was unaware its ally was operating a prison on Diego Garcia to house so-called 'high-value detainees'. However, in 2008 the then-Foreign Secretary David Miliband was forced to admit that two US planes carrying rendered suspects had landed in Diego Garcia to refuel in 2002 - without Britain's knowledge.Lawyers and MPs have struggled for years to obtain the atoll's flight logs, which could be checked against planes known to have been used for rendition - but their efforts have been met with refusals from ministers.In July the UK Foreign Office told MP Andrew Tyrie in a parliamentary answer that flight logs had been lost "due to water damage".
Days later, however, a Whitehall official was photographed carrying documents confirming that Diego Garcia flight logs were in the possession of detectives. London's Metropolitan Police are currently investigating allegations that an opponent of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was rendered via Diego Garcia.In a further twist, just days later the Foreign Office backtracked on its earlier claim that records had been destroyed, saying that after conducting a "fuller inspection" the records had "dried out".In July the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland broke the European human rights convention in helping the CIA to render two terror suspects. Britain could face similar action if it is confirmed that it too was complicit in extraordinary rendition.Human rights barrister Adam Wagner told VICE News: "The legal position under the criminal law is clear. Torture is a crime and has been for hundreds of years. Anyone who aids another to commit torture, or who encourages or arranges torture by another, has committed a crime. That includes members of the security services, even if they arranged torture which occurred outside of the UK."Equally, torture is prohibited under international law including the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 of which prohibits 'torture or inhuman or degrading treatment'. The European Court of Human Rights has taken a proactive approach in investigating cases of 'extraordinary rendition' and is likely to do so again if evidence is presented to it in relation to the UK."Donald Campbell, head of communications at Reprieve, an organisation pushing for transparency over Diego Garcia's role in renditions, said the disclosure suggested "the Government has not been entirely open with the public over evidence of Diego Garcia's role in the CIA's torture programme."Ministers must stop stalling and make public all flight and immigration records from the island from 2001 onwards - before any more of them suffer mysterious 'water damage," Campbell said.The CIA Just Admitted That It Spied on the US Senate. Read more here.Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @BenBryant