As published in the Daily Mail:
Diego Garcia files saved: Pressure grows on ministers to release ‘water-damaged’ records about rendition of suspects after they dried out
Damage caused by a leaky roof during heavy weather related to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean
The government only admitted in 2008 that island, which has vast US military base, was linked to rendition
Diego Garcia was used for rendition of Gadaffi opponent and pregnant wife
Pressure is growing on ministers to release secret flight records linked to the rendition of terror suspects – as they have now dried out.
The Foreign Office attracted claims of a cover-up last week when it told an MP who asked for the details of flights to and from the British island of Diego Garcia, that they had been ‘water damaged’.
Mark Simmonds, a foreign office minister added to the farce yesterday when he said the records, held by officials on the tiny territory in the Indian Ocean have now been salvaged.
In a rambling answer, Mr Simmonds said officials had recently noticed the damage to the logs, which he said was caused by a roof leak during heavy weather.
The documents are now, he said, in the process of being taken to a new location.
The government only admitted in 2008 that the island, which has a vast US military base, was linked to the rendition programme – after years of denying any involvement.
David Miliband, then foreign secretary, admitted it had been used twice for re-fuelling of rendition flights in 2002, during the months after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Rendition is the practice of taking terror suspects to be interrogated in other countries with less stringent human rights regulations. It was said to have been used to allow the torture of suspects.
Ministers insist the suspects never left the plane during refuelling. But reports in the US claim the island hosted a secret prison and that it hosted more rendition flights in the following years.
Documents uncovered after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 suggest the US sought to use Diego Garcia as a stopover during the 2004 rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a leading Gaddafi opponent, and his pregnant wife.
The pair are taking legal action against M16, which is also being investigated by Scotland Yard.
Cori Crider, the director of the legal charity Reprieve and lawyer for Abdel-Hakim Belhadj, said there was no evidence of heavy rain in the area in June of this year when they claim the damage occurred.
‘It’s unclear what exactly the Foreign Office means by heavy weather’, she said. ‘Perhaps there is a micro-climate over the hut on Diego Garcia where all the embarrassing files are kept?
‘In any event, it’s hardly an answer to say they’ve got out a hair dryer and patched the roof; the FCO needs to hand the documents over to Parliament, before some other invisible monsoon strikes.
‘And they need to take steps to retrieve the lost information from 2004, the year my clients Abdel-Hakim Belhadj and his wife were scheduled to be rendered via the island.’
Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, who has fought for years to get hold of the secret flight records, was told the 2002 records were ‘incomplete due to water damage’ in a parliamentary answer last week.
Yesterday Tory MP David Davis, asked again about the status of the logs of flights which have passed through Diego Garcia between January 2002 and January 2009.
Mr Simmonds said: ‘During routine work to add existing records to the store in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) immigration officials noted water damage to a small number of records, caused by a leaking roof. This is believed to have resulted from extremely heavy weather in June 2014.
‘Although the extent of the damage was not clear on initial inspection at the time…records from 2002 appeared to be incomplete due to water damage. However, since my answer of 8 July, BIOT immigration officials have 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. A small number of immigration arrival cards from 2004 have been damaged, but that information about those flights is still available in the daily occurrence logs and monthly statistics. These records provide dates of aircraft movements in the Territory, and passenger and crew numbers.
‘Following the incident, all hard copy records from the affected location are being transferred from the airport to a new location, and will be digitalised over the coming months.’
The US has a vast military base on the island. It was revealed in 2008 they had secretly used the island as part of its rendition programme without informing British ministers.
Last month MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee said the US must provide binding commitments over use of Diego Garcia if it is to be allowed to carry on using it, as public confidence had been damaged by the disclosure.