Come fly with me
One of the most contentious issues in the war on terror has been the extra-legal (is this different to being illegal?) detention of those suspected of involvement in terrorism. You remember all those American cop shows where they read out your rights - you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney and all that stuff. Well you can forget all that, the rules have changed.
By rendition I mean the transfer of prisoners from one country to another, by means that bypass all due judicial and administrative processes. Kidnapping, in other words. Sometimes that has been into US custody. Sometimes into the hands of regimes with rather more robust interrogation methods, such as Egypt or Syria.
We know the CIA has been involved in hundreds of rendition flights. Far from denying it, the US Administration claims it as a pillar of the war on terror and anyway, how else did all those guys in orange jumpsuits get to Guantanamo Bay? Thanks to a superb effort by human rights researchers we even know the front companies the CIA set up to run the process and some of the aircraft they chartered to do the job. What we cant say for certain is where we (i.e. Scotland) fit into the picture.
The reason for suspecting we might do is that those planes servicing the rendition process need to stop and refuel somewhere, and they have been spotted time and again at Scottish airports, particularly Prestwick and Glasgow but also Inverness, Wick, Leuchars. We even have an ex-CIA pilot quoted as calling Prestwick Airport a no questions asked kind of a place. Quite worrying, especially as assisting kidnapping and/or torture is a crime under Scots law.
In opposition the SNP spoke out strongly against the practice of rendition, and even produced its own report detailing some of the sightings at Scottish airports and calling for a full enquiry. Once in power at Holyrood, the SNP Justice Secretary met with human rights groups to hear our concerns and passed on a dossier of concerns to the Lord Advocate. We wait with interest the result of her consideration, but note that this is the same Lord Advocate who, under the previous administration, found no reason to pursue the matter.
Meanwhile, amongst all the talk of official enquiries and legal position of torture under Scots law, we risk missing the simplest of tricks. The CIAs renditions programme was made possible by the lack of scrutiny carried out in the various stopover and refuelling points. Consequently Amnesty International has negotiated an anti-rendition policy with City of Derry Airport in Northern Ireland. This sets out simple measures which the airport staff can take in order to vet the flow of traffic through their facilities. Having been drawn up in collaboration with professional airport management we can safely assert that these are practical, achievable measures and not simply the wishlist of human rights campaigners.
In Government, SNP Ministers now own and operate a network of ten airports. For any opponent of rendition flights suddenly having control of a bunch of airports is an unmissable opportunity and the policy at City of Derry Airport should be rolled out across Scotland without further delay.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.