SCOTLAND’S most senior law officer has instructed police to study a report on CIA torture, as part of an ongoing investigation into rendition flights carrying al-Qaeda suspects landing at Scottish airports.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland said yesterday that he had asked Police Scotland to assess the findings of a US Senate investigation into controversial techniques used to extract information in the years following the September 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Scottish police began their own investigation into rendition flights last year after research claimed airports including Aberdeen, Inverness and Wick had been used as refuelling stops in the transfer of terror suspects to “secret prison and torture destinations” in other parts of the world. The use of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick airports had been identified previously.
The long-awaited US Senate report, which was published on Tuesday, delivered a damning indictment of CIA practices, accusing the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond legal limits and overplaying the effectiveness of the techniques in thwarting terror attacks.
The Scottish Government said the findings of the report were “deeply troubling”.
Yesterday, Mr Mulholland said: “The use of torture cannot be condoned. It is against international law and contrary to the common law of Scotland. I have instructed Police Scotland to consider the information published in the US Senate report as part of the ongoing police investigation into rendition flights into Scotland.”
Last year, researchers at the universities of Kent and Kingston compiled what they said was an extensive database of rendition flights in Scotland.
An earlier inquiry into extraordinary rendition at Scottish airports in 2007 and 2008 did not lead to a criminal investigation after police found insufficient credible and reliable information to enable them to proceed.
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Dr Ruth Blakeley at the University of Kent, one of those who carried out the research published last year, said there were those within MI6, now known as the Secret Intelligence Service, who were aware of the rendition flights.
“There were certainly people in MI6 who would have known, but whether they knew the full extent of what has been revealed in the [Senate] report is an open question.”
Dr Blakeley said CIA agents and those working for the UK’s border and security agencies could be among those facing legal action.
Earlier this year, the human rights charity Reprieve wrote to then First Minister Alex Salmond and the Lord Advocate urging that they contact US authorities over the CIA report after the information was declassified.
Donald Campbell, a spokesman for Reprieve, said: “It is welcome that the Lord Advocate has responded to Reprieve’s calls to include the Senate report findings in the police investigation into renditions through Scottish airports.
“However, The Scottish Government should be pushing for investigators to have access to the entire report, not just the executive summary that has been published. What has been released is less than a tenth of the committee’s full 6,000-page report – surely the Scottish and UK governments can secure access for the police to the report in full.”
The use of Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh as stop-offs on journeys often linking the United States and Middle East was identified last year by researchers in an online database.
Five flights landed at Wick, a further five at Inverness and three at Aberdeen, according to the research.
One aircraft which landed at Wick in 2004 was “logged flying to secret prison and torture destinations”, the researchers said.
None of the airports appear in the redacted US Senate report, and Scotland is not specifically mentioned.
Angus Robertson MP, the SNP’s leader at Westminster and the party’s defence spokesman, said it was time for the foreign secretary to make a statement to the Commons on rendition.
He said: “The new revelations made in the US Senate’s report are appalling – those who are responsible for human rights abuses must be swiftly brought to justice.
“In light of the shocking report by the US Senate, the UK government must give immediate answers on whether these intelligence flights involved rendition and what knowledge the UK government had of the practices detailed in the report.”
According to the Senate report, CIA tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death. Three detainees faced the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems.
At least 26 of 119 known detainees in custody during the life of the programme were wrongfully held, and many held for months longer than they should have been.
But the “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not produce the results that really mattered, according to the report.
It cited CIA cables, e-mails and interview transcripts to rebut claims that the torture thwarted terror plots and saved American lives.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The US Senate’s report paints a deeply troubling picture of the practices used on detainees.
“In terms of so-called rendition flights and the use of facilities in Scotland, the Scottish Government would welcome full disclosure of all information on that issue.”
Detective Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy of Police Scotland’s Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism team added: “There is an ongoing investigation in respect of rendition issues and it would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of this.
“We will consider all information that is pertinent to this investigation and, as directed by the Lord Advocate, will look at this report.”
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