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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Some 200 American civilian and technical staff at a UK military base were given diplomatic immunity for activities linked to the “war on terror,” raising questions about British involvement in torture and rendition.
Newly released documents show that the British government repeatedly extended diplomatic immunity for staff at a US communications station in the UK because of the “demand brought on by the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.”
Diplomatic immunity protects foreign individuals from prosecution for crimes committed in another country, and is a privilege most often held by ambassadors.
But human rights group Reprieve said it appears to have been used to protect American civilians in the UK for their involvement in “extraordinary rendition” — a process in which the US and its allies forcefully abducted foreign citizens to interrogate them, while circumventing national laws on torture and detention.
Many of those abducted were taken from Arab countries and were never prosecuted with a crime.
Reprieve said it suspects that staff at the base may have been gathering intelligence for rendition flights, and the documents show a steady increase in the number of Americans granted immunity from prosecution as the UK became more involved in renditions.
According to Reprieve, at least 779 people — including at least 15 children — were subject to extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo alone. The figure for total renditions is likely far higher.
The UK and US have often faced criticism for their complicity in human rights abuses committed as part of the rendition and torture program.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “Only by fully investigating this dark part of British history can we hope not to make the same mistakes. We need an independent, judge-led inquiry.”
David Davis, a former British Cabinet minister, questioned why so many US citizens needed diplomatic immunity during the Iraq war.
“The only thing I can think of that makes sense is that they were involved in things which might have been in breach of British law,” he told The Times newspaper.
“Was it in support of rendition flights, or ambushes and arrests and so on? That would mean our allies were carrying out activities in contravention of our policies, and we were giving them immunity.”
A previous enquiry by the British intelligence and security committee concluded that the UK had tolerated “inexcusable” treatment of detainees by the US after 9/11.
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