Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
STRAW MP, MR
CMG AND DR
24 OCTOBER 2005
Q100 Mr Mackay: Foreign Secretary,
that is an appropriately robust response that you have given,
and I commend you for it. Does that mean that your answer on Syria
is the same as the one you gave on Iran, when a colleague a few
moments ago asked if we would take part in any invasionthat
we would take part in any invasion of Syria or taking out certain
key people from Syria? You were very specific about Iran and said
that there were no plans, that it was not on the agenda; that
we should cool it, calm it. Is that what you mean for Syria?
Mr Straw: As I said, we are at
the moment in discussion with the Americans and other partners
and drafting a response that will go before the Security Council.
Let us take these things one step at a time.
Q101 Mr Mackay: That is a very interesting
answer. The last question, which perhaps you can answer slightly
more fully than that, is this. Your relationship with your opposite
number in Damascus must be
Mr Straw: Dr Farouk al-Shara?
Q102 Mr Mackay: They must be very
ragged now in the light of this report. Is it worthwhile keeping
up diplomatic relations at the moment with Syria?
Mr Straw: As it happens, I have
not seen Dr Farouk al-Shara since I saw him at the conference
earlier in the year in Sharm e-Sheikh. My judgment is that it
is worth keeping up diplomatic relations with Syria, and I would
certainly not wish them to be brought to an end unilaterally.
We keep up diplomatic relations with a great many countries, for
example Burmaalthough I am not comparing them directlybut
we do so because we think it is worthwhileand with Zimbabwe.
Q103 Mr Purchase: The answer that
Mr Mackay described as interesting was also unconvincing. People
will be extremely concerned, following President Bush's remarks
in regard to his view of Syria. We do need some assurance that
it is not the intention of the British Government to be led by
the nose into an attack on Syria. We have been there before, and
many people would be very unhappy if they thought we were going
Mr Straw: Let me assure you, the
issuewe are talking about diplomatic decisions being made
within the United Nations system. There has been no discussion
that I have taken part in with the United States about military
action in respect of Syrianone whatever. I do not think
it is on their agenda either; let us be clear about that.
Q104 Mr Purchase: The President seemed
to put it on the agenda.
Mr Straw: Well, I provided the
reassurance that Mr Mackay sought. Iraq was Iraq, and we supportedI
know you did not, but the British Parliament supported the judgments
that we made as a government in respect of Iraq. We did it in
a very open way. We had three debates running from September 2002
to March 2003, with votes; and it could not have been done in
a more open way. Again, we made our judgment, and we happen to
think it was the right one. People can discuss, as it were, the
counter factuals, and if we had not supported the United States
I think the situation would have been altogether worse. That is
where we are. On these other issues we are working very carefully
and well with the United States Government. Judge them by the
decisions they have made. With respect to Iran, judge the United
States by the fact that it has given us increasing support for
the E3 EU process notwithstanding the fact, as I was agreeing
with Mr Pope, that the environment has become more difficult not
less difficult. In respect of Syria we have a problem. It is a
problem for the international community. Resolution 1559 was co-sponsored
originally by France and the United States, with us coming in
behind. France has been as much in the lead on this as has the
United States. I have just come from a commemoration service at
St Paul's Cathedral to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the
foundation of the United Nations. What we all know about the United
Nations is that where it works together it is a force for good,
without the necessity for military action. In respect of Iraq,
if we had ever been able to get that second resolution with an
ultimatum, the chances are that we would not have had to go to
war, as a matter of fact; but there we are! You do not have to
have these on the agenda particularly where you have good, strong
backing in the international community.
Q105 Sandra Osborne: I would like
to ask you about the issue of extraordinary rendition. In response
to this Committee's report of last year on the war against terrorism,
the government said that it was not aware of the use of its territory
or air space for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. However,
it appears that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest
that the UK air space is indeed being utilised for this purpose,
albeit mainly in the media. Some of the suggestions seem to be
extremely detailed. For example, the Guardian has reported
that aircraft involved in operations have flown into the UK at
least 210 times since 9/11, an average of one flight a week. It
appears that the favourite destination is Prestwick Airport, which
is next to my constituency, as it happens. Can you comment on
that? What role is the UK playing in extraordinary rendition?
Mr Straw: The position in respect
of extraordinary rendition was set out in the letter that the
head of our parliamentary team wrote to Mr Priestley, your Clerk,
on 11 March; and the position has not changed. We are not aware
of the use of our territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary
rendition. We have not received any requests or granted any permissions
for use of UK territory or air space for such purposes. It is
perfectly possible that there have been two hundred movements
of United States aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom and
I would have thought it was many more; but that is because we
have a number of US air force bases here, which, under the Visiting
Forces Act and other arrangements they are entitled to use under
certain conditions. I do not see for a second how the conclusion
could be drawn from the fact that there have been some scores
of movements of US military aircraftwell, so whatthat
that therefore means they have been used for rendition. That is
a very long chain!
Q106 Sandra Osborne: The UN Commission
on Human Rights has started an inquiry into the British Government's
role in this. Is the Government co-operating fully with that inquiry?
Why would they start an inquiry if there were no reason to believe
that this was actually happening?
Mr Straw: People start inquiries
for all sorts of reasons. I assume we are co-operating with it.
I am not aware of any requests, but we always co-operate with
Q107 Mr Keetch: They are not flying
under US military flags; these are Gulfstream aircraft used by
the CIA. They have a 26-strong fleet of Gulfstream aircraft that
are used for this purpose. These aircraft are not coming into
British spaces; they are coming into airports. Some are into bases
like Northolt, and some into bases like Prestwick. Whilst it is
always good to have the head of your parliamentary staff respond
to our Clerk, Mr Priestley, could you give us an assurance that
you will investigate these specific flights; and, if it is the
case that these flights are being used for the process of extraordinary
rendition, which is contrary to international law and indeed contrary
to the stated policy of Her Majesty's Government, would you attempt
to see if they should stop?
Mr Straw: I would like to see
what it is that is being talked about here. I am very happy to
endorse, as you would expect, and I did endorse, the letter sent
by our parliamentary team to your Clerk on 11 March. I am happy,
for the avoidance of any doubt, to say that I specifically endorse
its contents. If there is evidence, we will look at it, but a
suggestion in a newspaper that there have been flights by unspecified
foreign aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom cannot possibly
add up to evidence that our air space or our facilities have been
used for the purpose of unlawful rendition. It just does not.
Q108 Mr Keetch: I accept that, but
if there were evidence of that, you would join with us, presumably,
Mr Straw: I am not going to pre-judge
an inquiry. If there were evidence, we would look at it. So far
there we have not seen any evidence.
Q109 Richard Younger-Ross: Our former
Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has stated in a document
to us: "I can confirm it is a positive policy decision by
the US and UK to use Uzbek torture material." He states that
the evidence is that the aircraft that my colleague referred to
earlier, the Gulfstreams, are taking detainees back to Uzbekistan
who are then being tortured. Is that not some indication that
these detainees are being transferred through the UK?
Mr Straw: It is Mr Murray's opinion.
Mr Murray, as you may know, stood in my constituency. He got fewer
votes than the British National Party, and notwithstanding the
fact that he assured the widest possible audience within the constituency
to his views about use of torture. I set out the British Government's
position on this issue on a number of occasions, including in
evidence both here and to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I wrote a pretty detailed letter to a constituent of mine back
in June, setting out our position. As I said there, there are
no circumstances in which British officials use torture, nor any
question of the British Government seeking to justify the use
of torture. Again, the British Government, including the terrorist
and security agencies, has never used torture for any purpose
including for information, nor would we instigate or connive with
others in doing so. People have to make their own judgment whether
they think I am being accurate or not.
Q110 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary,
the letter which you supplied to the Committee in March which
gave the conclusion that the British Government is not aware of
the use of its territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary
rendition was taken at face value by most members of the Committee
at that time, before the election. We took that to mean that we
were not aware of any extraordinary rendition, and that it was
not happening. The press reports were therefore something of a
surprise. Would our Government be contacted by any country using
our airspace, taking suspects to other countries? Would we be
asked for permission or would there be any circumstances where
we would be contacted; or is it the case that it could well be
happening but that our Government is not aware of it simply because
we have not been informed, or our permission is not necessary?
Mr Straw: Mr Illsley, on the precise
circumstances in which foreign governments apply for permission
to use British air space, I have to write to you, because it is
important that I make that accurate.
What Mr Stanton on my behalf said in the letter is exactly the
same: why would I, for a second, knowingly provide this Committee
with false information, if I had had information about rendition?
We do not practise rendition, full-stop. I ought to say that whether
rendition is contrary to international law depends on the particular
circumstances of the case; it depends on each case, but we do
not practise it. I would have to come back to you on that question.
Chairman: We will expect a letter. Thank
you very much. John Horam, Afghanistan.
Q111 Mr Horam: Foreign Secretary,
there are worrying signs of deterioration there, are there not?
Mr Straw: Well, the situation
Q112 Mr Horam: Did you say there
Mr Straw: I am sorry, I am not
quite sure what signs you are referring to.
Q113 Mr Horam: The strengthening
of the Taliban and al Qaeda and the evidence that the sort of
methods used in Iraq are now being used in Afghanistan.
Mr Straw: There has been a terrorist
problem in Afghanistan from the time that the Taliban were, in
the main, defeated. When I visited Kandahar in the summer of 2003
there had been a bomb in a mosque the day before, and some people
had been killed and a large number of people had been injured.
Indeed, I saw many people who had been severely injured laid out
in a field hospital in what had been the departures lounge of
Kandahar International Airportso this had been going on
for some time. The better news, Mr Horam, is that there has been
the presidential election. We have now had the parliamentary and
provincial elections, with the final results expected by the end
of this month. The first session of the parliament will be on
19 December, and that will mark the culmination of the political
tract of the Bonn process. If you think about where Afghanistan
was four years ago, this is a dramatic improvement. Nobody would
Q114 Mr Horam: I accept entirely
that point, but equally the evidence we have to set against that
is that there are clear signs that the Taliban and al Qaeda are
reviving, certainly in some provinces. Is that right?
Mr Straw: I do not have the precise
figures about Taliban activity. It is certainly the case that
they are not completely defeated, and there remains quite a serious
challenge. That is something we need to deal with, along with
our American colleagues and thoseas you know there are
two operations; there is ISAF and there is also Operation Enduring
Freedom, which is based on Kandahar.
Q115 Mr Horam: Presumably, the Nato
Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's argument that they
must increase the amount of military capability there from 10,000
to 15,000 is presumably working on the assumption that unless
it does that, the situation will get worse.
Mr Straw: There is the issue of
terrorism and there is also the issue of ensuring that the writ
of the elected government runs.
Q116 Mr Horam: They are linked, are
Mr Straw: They are in some areas
and they are not in other areas.
Q117 Mr Horam: They are linked in
the problem areas.
Mr Straw: In ensuring that there
is effective order. As you will know, Mr Horam, we are proposing
to do two things: we propose to put the ARRC in from May 2006,
and then to increase our total forces quite substantially.
Q118 Mr Horam: Have you got a figure
Mr Straw: There is a figure but
I am not certain whether I am at liberty to issue it, because
it is a matter for my colleague John Reid. I am told sotto voce
that an announcement will be given later this week.
Q119 Mr Horam: Are we going to have
to make a bigger effort to further improve the situation in Afghanistan?
Mr Straw: Yes.
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