ON the morning of 20 December 2001, just a few short months after the 9/11 attacks, a nondescript jet touched down at Prestwick Airport.
After an hour’s refuelling, the aircraft flew to Washington’s Dulles airport before travelling on to Johnston County in North Carolina.
The jet’s brief stop in Scotland would have been of little consequence had it not been for the first part of its journey. According to academics who have studied aircraft movements associated with the CIA’s rendition programme, the jet had earlier been used to transport two men, Mohamed el-Zery and Ahmed Agiza, from Sweden to Egypt, where they were tortured.
Neither of the men were aboard when the plane touched down in Scotland, having already been detained by their captors in north Africa.
The allegation from human rights groups is that by allowing use of its airports, Scotland was complicit in the illegal torture of terror suspects.
The incident is just one of many in which academics claim Scottish airports were used as refuelling stops on rendition circuits.
The research forms the basis of a police inquiry which began in 2013 and is currently ongoing.
It’s possible that airports including Prestwick were used without the UK and Scottish authorities knowing what the aircraft were involved in. However, it’s also possible that in the febrile atmosphere that followed the 11 September attacks, Britain’s willingness to stand by a key ally extended to providing use of airspace.
The issue received renewed attention late last year with the publication of a long-awaited US Senate report, which said agents had used “brutal” interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda suspects in the years after 2001.
But while there was much to shame and embarrass the intelligence services in the report, the vast majority of its 6,000 pages remain classified.
Now Police Scotland has made formal attempts to obtain the full, unredacted text following instructions from the Crown Office.
Among the redactions are those known to have been made in collaboration with the UK intelligence services, which feared national security would be undermined had the information been released.
Police Scotland’s pursuit of this information is to be applauded, although it’s unclear how far officers will actually get – they have yet to receive a response from the US authorities.
However, it is only by properly investigating Scotland’s role in a shameful period in recent US history that we can fully learn to what extent we are also to blame.