A British minister has today admitted that a number of records relating to flights passing through the island of Diego Garcia — which is known to have been used by CIA rendition jets — have been “damaged [by water] to the point of no longer being useful.”
The Government first informed Parliament that flight records for Diego Garcia were “incomplete due to water damage” on 8 July this year. The revelation led to further questions from MPs, as ministers have previously admitted that the island — part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and home to a US military base — was used by CIA rendition flights.
However, just a week later, on 15 July, Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds told the Commons that “previously wet paper records have been dried out…no flight records have been lost as a result of the water damage.”
Today, the Government’s position appears to have changed again, with the confirmation in a statement given to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that immigration records relating to civilians landing on the island have been destroyed beyond use. Although there is no indication of the identities of the civilians concerned, such records are potentially significant as they could relate to the civilian CIA agents who operated the ‘rendition’ flights which saw detainees flown to countries where they could be tortured.
The Foreign Office is also yet to respond to the revelation that June 2014 — the month in which they say saw “extremely heavy weather” which led to the destruction of the records — was in fact a relatively dry one, according to FCO records. Questioned over the discrepancy by Vice News recently, a FCO spokesperson said: “I don’t think it’s very helpful for us to have a discussion about how much rain is a lot of rain.”
Ministers have also refused to answer questions in Parliament over whether the US sought permission to use Diego Garcia for the 2004 rendition to Libya of Gaddafi opponent Abdel-Hakim Belhadj and his pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar .
Commenting, Cori Crider, legal director at Reprieve, a charity which is representing victims of rendition said: “This is the second time the Government has changed its story on the destruction of what is potentially evidence of CIA renditions via Diego Garcia. On top of that, ministers continue to stonewall questions over when what is left of these documents will be made public, and whether the US sought permission to use the island for the rendition of Abdel-Hakim Belhadj and Fatima Boudchar to Gaddafi’s Libya. People will rightly draw the conclusion that the Government still has something to hide when it comes to the UK’s role in supporting CIA torture fights.”