Documents that could implicate British officials in the CIA's global rendition programme have been irretrievably damaged, the Foreign Office has claimed.
In a written answer to Parliament published yesterday (9 July), UK Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said that government paperwork showing flights made to and from the British territory of Diego Garcia was "incomplete due to water damage".
The revelation is especially significant as the Indian Ocean island is known to have been used by CIA rendition flights. The British Foreign Secretary was forced to admit in 2008 that two such flights refuelled on the British territory in 2002 – the same year for which it has now emerged the records have been damaged.
The Foreign Office’s statement on records follows leaks which indicate that a major US Senate report into the CIA’s rendition and torture programme is set to reveal that Diego Garcia hosted a secret prison or ‘black site’ – something which British ministers have consistently denied.
In addition, documents uncovered after the fall of Tripoli in 2011 suggest the US sought to use Diego Garcia as a stopover during the 2004 rendition of Reprieve client Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a leading Gaddafi opponent, and his pregnant wife, says the legal charity Reprieve. The couple are currently taking legal action against the UK Government and its security services for their part in the operation, which is also being investigated by Scotland Yard. Evidence about UK officials' knowledge of 2002-era renditions and Diego Garcia would have been relevant to this police inquiry.
Cori Crider, attorney for Mr Belhadj and a director at Reprieve said: "It's looking worse and worse for the UK government on Diego Garcia. First we learn the Senate's upcoming torture report says detainees were held on the island, and now – conveniently – a pile of key documents turn up missing with 'water damage'? The government might as well have said the dog ate their homework. This smacks of a cover-up. They now need to come clean about how, when, and where this evidence was lost."