MSPs warn Sturgeon of ‘deep concern’ over police rendition investigation

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to act amid fears the police investigation will "fail" to uncover the truth. Picture: John DevlinNicola Sturgeon has been urged to act amid fears the police investigation will "fail" to uncover the truth. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to act amid fears the police investigation will "fail" to uncover the truth. Picture: John Devlin
A cross party group of MSPs have written to Nicola Sturgeon expressing “deep concern” that an investigation into the use of Scottish airports for US torture and rendition flights will fail to establish the “truth” without “concerted action” by the Scottish and UK governments.

The group, which includes members from the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Greens, have called on the first minister to press for access to a confidential US Senate report into the alleged practice

Police Scotland said its organised crime and counter terrorism unit has “gathered and analysed all the information made available to them,” and submitted a report to prosecutors last year. It is currently being considered by the Crown Office’s serious and organised crime unit.

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But the Holyrood group warned it was “vital” the force receives the evidence it needs to investigate “potentially very serious crimes” on Scottish soil.

Its letter comes less than a fortnight after Saifulla Paracha, the oldest prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, wrote to Ms Sturgeon, asking for help to “uncover the truth” of the CIA’s use of Scottish airports.

At the time, the Scottish Government said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the matter with the UK government, given the investigation was ongoing.

But last night, a spokesman said justice secretary Humza Yousaf has responded to Mr Paracha, and confirmed he will be seeking the UK government’s support in obtaining the US Senate committee report.

In their letter, the MSPs point out that police have been unable to obtain the full, unredacted document, which runs to 6,700 pages. Only a redacted 525 page-long summary has been released.

The cross party group wrote: “We are deeply concerned that without concerted action by the Scottish and Westminster governments, Police Scotland’s investigation will fail to get to the truth.

“Real accountability is urgently needed, and it must be made absolutely clear that Scottish territory can never again be used to facilitate such abuses.”

The signatories - the SNP’s Ruth Maguire, Pauline McNeill and James Kelly from Labour, Greens Patrick Harvie and John Finnie, and Liam McArthur from the Lib Dems - said they were concerned the police investigation has been “blocked” from obtaining the 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that “officials in Washington and Westminster have failed to provide Scottish police” with the report, which “contains detailed information about the CIA’s rendition network.”

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Now, they said, Ms Sturgeon must put pressure on the UK government to “ensure this evidence is supplied” to investigators.

“With concerns in US circles that this crucial evidence could be irretrievably destroyed, following efforts by the Trump administration to recover the small number of copies currently held by third parties, we urge you to use your position as Scotland’s first minister to call on the Westminster government to ensure the US Senate report is provided to Police Scotland,” the MSPs added.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Harvie said it was “disgraceful” that officers were still waiting for evidence, adding that it was “deeply concerning that responsibility for transparency now rests with the Trump administration.”

He explained: “As the UK government sidles up to Trump in the hope of a post-Brexit trade deal, it’s vital the first minister pushes them on rendition.”

Katie Taylor, deputy director of Reprieve, the human rights charity, said: “The first minister shouldn’t accept any more foot dragging from Westminster over Scottish airports’ role in renditions.

“Police Scotland’s investigation has been stalled by Boris Johnson’s failure to ask Donald Trump for vital evidence in this case. If the Scottish Government accepts these perpetual delays it will be giving up on ever getting to the truth.”

Mr Paracha, who said he was “shocked” to learn that a plane he was transported on may have refuelled at Glasgow Airport, told Ms Sturgeon that Scotland was “a country that believes in justice.” The 72-year-old has been held at Guantánamo since September 2004 without ever having been charged. He said that “only a fraction of the information” relating to his torture and rendition was available to authorities in Scotland.

Mr Paracha’s health is failing after suffering two heart attacks, a point noted by the MSPs in their own letter to St Andrew’s House.

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“We understand that his failing health and inadequate medical care raises the real prospect that he may die there, demonstrating the devastating and lasting consequences of the decision to involve Scottish airports in these abuses,” they noted.

Reprieve, which is campaigning for his release, says he was abducted in July 2003 in Thailand, then held and tortured at Bagram prison in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Cuba.

It says the plane which took him to Afghanistan refuelled in Glasgow before heading to the US, a claim echoed last year by the Rendition Project, a collaboration between human rights organisations and academics at the universities of Westminster and Sheffield. Its report indicated that Scottish airports were involved in rendition flights for at least 16 individuals.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The justice secretary has responded to Mr Paracha’s letter, in which he also confirmed that he will be seeking the UK government’s support in obtaining the Senate report.

“Mr Yousaf will also give careful consideration to the request made in the MSPs’ letter.”