Taking off again..
I don’t usually watch First Minister’s Questions. Its not that it isn’t entertaining. Alex Salmond obviously revels in the role and there’s usually at least one laugh-out-loud moment (sometime’s deliberate, often not). My problem is more that the emphasis is firmly on political knockabout or, as the locals would have it, slagging each other. The number of real questions actually asked or (heaven forbid) answered is minimal.
Yesterday was different. Ok, I only tuned in because I knew that Alex was going to be asked about rendition flights and that’s a particular interest of mine. To recap, rendition flights are the extra-legal (“illegal”, if you prefer plain speaking) transfer of those suspected of involvement in terrorism.
Some people seem to get confused over what is “rendition” and what is “extraordinary rendition”. Of course most fuss is made over the worst case scenario, where suspects are flown to countries such as Egypt or Syria where torture can be used to extract information. But while a government kidnapping individuals and sending them off to be tortured is horrific, I can’t help but think that kidnapping in itself is plenty to protest about.
To return to the First Minister. Three cheers then for his opening statement of “The Scottish Government is strongly opposed to rendition flights” , which puts him a step ahead of the Westminster Government, which can only muster opposition if there is a risk of torture and would consider any other instance of rendition on a “case by case basis”.
The First Minister was robust, as ever, in his disappointment that the UK Government had not seen fit to inform the Scottish administration that they had found two occasions of rendition flights using UK territory. Yet when pressed by an impressive barrage of supplementary questions, including a call from Liberal Democrat Robert Brown for the appointment of an independent investigator, the best that he could offer was a plea for confidence in the Scottish judicial system.
I can’t shake off the feeling, so common in political campaigning, that there are two separate conversations going on. Amnesty International says that there are concerns over rendition that need to be investigated. We are told that there is no proof to the allegations. We say we know there is no proof, but there are concerns that should be investigated. We are told again that there is no proof to the allegations.
If I produced a dossier of information setting out how a known drugs cartel had set up several front companies to charter planes to move their drugs around, and that during the time of that activity these planes had repeatedly been spotted at Prestwick and Glasgow airports, I don’t think I would need to produce conclusive proof in order for the matter to be investigated.
Several organisations have produced such reports about rendition flights. One of them was the SNP.
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