Saturday, December 26, 2009

Police lose battle over evidence of 'British 9/11' plot

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December 26, 2009


Police lose battle over evidence of ‘British 9/11’ plot

Scotland Yard must reveal whether it had CIA intelligence

Scotland Yard has been ordered to reveal whether it has any evidence to support America’s claim that Britain was saved from a 9/11-style disaster by the CIA’s secret foreign interrogation centres.

The Times has won a case under the Freedom of Information Act forcing British police to say whether the US stopped a plot to fly planes into Canary Wharf and Heathrow. The claim was made by President Bush when he first acknowledged the existence of a clandestine CIA prison network created to fight his War on Terror.

The Office of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has upheld a complaint that the Metropolitan Police was wrong to stonewall inquiries by The Times. Scotland Yard has been given 35 days to comply or appeal. If it admits that there is no such intelligence, it would undermine any political defence for America’s strong-arm tactics in fighting terrorism. If such information does exist, it would boost supporters of the policy of “extraordinary rendition”, giving a justification for their methods.

The Information Commissioner’s Office dismissed all of Scotland Yard’s arguments for refusing even to say whether it holds any information about the CIA foiling London’s “9/11”.

The Metropolitan Police had claimed that confirming whether it had this information might harm national security.

President Bush first admitted in September 2006 that terrorist suspects had been held in secret CIA prisons beyond America’s borders. He said: “These are some of the plots that have been stopped because of the information of this vital programme. Terrorists held in CIA custody have also provided information that helped stop a planned strike on US Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti — they were going to use an explosive-laden water tanker. They helped stop a planned attack on the US Consulate in Karachi using car bombs and motorcycle bombs, and they helped stop a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf in London.”

His admission that the secret centres existed came after allegations by critics that some interrogation techniques amounted to torture. The supposed methods included waterboarding (simulated drowning), beatings, electric shocks and mock executions. The extent of any complicity by Tony Blair’s Government in the US policy of “extraordinary rendition” remains a sensitive political issue in Britain.

Ministers have twice had to go to Parliament and admit that the House of Commons had been misled.

Last year David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, admitted that two flights carrying prisoners had landed on Diego Garcia, a British territory, for refuelling despite previous denials.

John Hutton, when he was Defence Secretary, said in February this year that two terrorist suspects caught by Britain in Iraq had been transferred by the US to Afghanistan. The Government had previously given reassurances that there had been no such cases.

The case of Binyam Mohamed, a British asylum seeker questioned by MI5 in overseas US custody, where he claims to have been tortured, has led to a clash between judges and the Government. Mr Miliband is appealing to prevent the High Court from disclosing sensitive information relating to Mr Mohamed’s treatment in custody.

The Times asked Scotland Yard, based on President Bush’s public remarks, to provide information about how the Canary Wharf plot was foiled using information from CIA detainees outside America. The force refused to confirm or deny whether it held such information, citing concerns about national security, international relations, law enforcement and health and safety. It gave no explanation of its reasoning.

The Times appealed to the Information Commissioner. The police explained their reasons to his office. Denying that they had the information would reveal to the terrorist group that it was not under investigation “and so it would continue its activities”. But confirming it held the information would reveal that it was under investigation, leading it to take evasive action.

However, the Information Commissioner’s Office pointed out: “The statement made by the President of the United States that is referred to in the request makes it clear that any such group was the subject of an investigation.” So any alteration in the terrorist group’s behaviour would have already occurred.

Baroness Ludford, the Liberal Democrat MEP who led an EU inquiry into rendition, welcomed the ruling. If Scotland Yard admitted that it had no such information, she said: “Either it’s a fabrication of the vivid imagination of President Bush and other people in Washington, or what does it say about real intelligence co-operation?”

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: “The Metropolitan Police is currently considering its position.”

Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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