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Brit spooks: Yanks are frightful cowboys

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The UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has released the results of its long-running investigation into involvement by the British secret services in "rendition" operations - the forcible moving of people, normally suspected terrorists, from one country to another without any judicial process such as deportation or extradition taking place.

The members of the ISC report that British spies have only undertaken one rendition in modern times. In 1989 the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6) "facilitated the transfer" of Nicholas Mullen from Zimbabwe to the UK in order to stand trial for his involvement in a 1980s UK-mainland bombing campaign. This is nowadays referred to as "rendition to justice" in spy speak.

That might not be quite appropriate in the case of Mullen, who was freed on appeal by the British courts because of the methods used to bring him before them. There was no suggestion that Mullen was not a bomber.

As the Beeb noted: "Mr Justice Colman and Mr Justice Maurice Kay said that the UK's 'abuse of process' had to outweigh the conviction.

"They said the facts of [Mullen's] involvement in a 1980s bombing campaign which left 14 dead and caused major damage were not considered..."

This apparently sickened the UK spooks sufficiently that they gave up on "rendition to justice".

But there are, according to yesterday's ISC report, other kinds of rendition. American spies have not only indulged in various successful "renditions to justice" - the US courts not being as picky as the British ones - they have done more. A lot more.

Nowadays, the suspect's destination might not be a proper trial in a normal Western court. Instead, he might be taken to a military jail/tribunal camp like Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib ("military rendition"), or an overseas secret-service facility with no legal aspects of any kind ("rendition to detention"). The very unluckiest captives may be taken to a place overseas - usually run at least ostensibly by non-Western security forces - where they can be tortured or otherwise dealt with in a totally illegal way ("extraordinary rendition").

According to the ISC, the British spooks of SIS and the Security Service (MI5) aren't allowed to do any of this. But they have a very close relationship with the Americans. To quote the Security Service:

"We have however received intelligence of the highest value from detainees, to whom we have not had access and whose location is unknown to us, some of which has led to the frustration of terrorist attacks in the UK ..."

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director general of the Security Service, testified to the ISC regarding Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who was linked to a number of Al-Qaeda terrorist plots, including 9/11.

She said: "When he was in detention in 2003, place unknown, he provided [information on] six individuals … who were involved in al-Qaeda activities in or against the UK. The Americans gave us this information … These included high-profile terrorists – an illustration of the huge amount of significant information that came from one man in detention in an unknown place."

The parliamentarians of the ISC wrote (their bold type):

Our intelligence-sharing relationships, particularly with the United States, are critical to providing the breadth and depth of intelligence coverage required to counter the threat to the UK posed by global terrorism. These relationships have saved lives and must continue.

So what the Americans get up to is OK? Maybe not.

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