As reported in The Times:
US airbase staff given immunity from prosecution in war on terror.
About 200 American civilian and technical staff on a military base in the UK were given diplomatic immunity for activities linked to the war on terror, it has been revealed, raising more questions about British involvement in rendition and torture.
Documents just released show that in 2006 ministers extended the immunity of personnel at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, a US communications station, after being told of “demands brought on by the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq”. This immunity is thought still to exist.
The base has been under scrutiny since the death of Harry Dunn, 19, on August 27 last year. His motorbike was hit by a car driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an intelligence official. Ms Sacoolas, 42, left the UK claiming diplomatic immunity.
David Davis, the former cabinet minister, asked why so many personnel had been given immunity during the Iraq war. “The only thing I can think of that makes sense is that they were involved in things which might have been in breach of British law, such as rendition,” he told The Times.
Reprieve, the human rights group, said the news lent weight to its calls for an independent judge-led inquiry into the UK’s complicity in abuse of detainees after 9/11. It said it suspected that staff at the base may have been gathering intelligence for rendition flights.
The UK is known to have facilitated US “extraordinary rendition” operations and the Croughton deal raises new questions about its involvement. The documents are heavily redacted and do not explicitly explain the immunity, but Reprieve said it was unlikely to have been for any other purpose.
Mr Davis said: “The next question is, was it for drone targeting? Was it in support of rendition flights, or ambushes and arrests and so on? That would mean our allies were carrying out activities in contravention of our policies, and we were giving them immunity.”
The documents detail extensions of the immunity in 1995, 2001 and 2006 and it is thought that these benefited Ms Sacoolas. According to Reprieve, about 200 personnel have immunity.
The documents were obtained in the course of the Dunn family’s judicial review, challenging the government’s decision to allow Ms Sacoolas to leave the UK. The 2006 submission to ministers noted the “increased demands brought on by the global war on terrorism” but warned that granting bulk immunity to US staff might provoke a “read-across by the media to rendition flights”.
The documents show a steady increase in the number of Americans granted immunity as the UK became more involved in renditions.
Whitehall sources said it was wrong to assume that the immunity was given for such purposes, that there were a variety of possible technical reasons, and that the note merely pointed to the inference the media would draw.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “Only by fully investigating this dark part of British history can we hope not to make the same mistakes. We need an independent, judge-led inquiry.”
David Cameron promised an inquiry in 2010, but it was put on hold while Libyan rendition was investigated and has now been ruled out. The intelligence and security committee concluded that the UK tolerated “inexcusable” treatment of detainees by the US after 9/11.