Newly-released information reveals that the British ambassador has met at least 21 times with members of the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) ahead of the expected publication of its report on CIA torture and rendition – leading to increased concerns that the UK may be seeking to 'censor' the report.
Records obtained under Freedom of Information by the legal charity Reprieve show that the British Ambassador to the US has met on numerous occasions with Republicans and Democrats on the SSCI during the course of its work investigating the CIA programme – including two notable meetings with Committee Chair Senator Feinstein shortly after the decision was made to publish the report.
A number of leaks to the media have already suggested that the report will contain new information regarding the UK’s role in supporting the CIA programme – including the use of the British territory of Diego Garcia by ‘rendition’ flights carrying detainees. The large number of recorded meetings between the Ambassador and members of the SSCI – which the FCO has admitted will not include the total number of less formal meetings – has therefore raised concerns that the UK is seeking to have such information kept out of the public domain.
In its response to a FOI request made by Reprieve for a list of dates on which UK officials had met with the SSCI or its members, the FCO said that:
“Current and former Ambassadors to Washington have met individual members of the Committee on a number of separate occasions. Our records, although not exhaustive, show that the current Ambassador met Senator Feinstein on 29 April 2014 and 2 May 2014, Senator Heinrich on 16 July 2014, Senator Rubio on 26 March 2014, 1 February 2013 and 10 April 2013, Senator Chambliss on 20 November 2012, Senator Mark Warner on 11 January 2013, Senator Collins on 16 July 2012 and 25 July 2012, and Senator Rockefeller on 28 June 2012.
“The former Ambassador met Senator Feinstein on 8 March 2010, 8 May 2010, 19 June 2010 and 26 September 2009, Senator Rockefeller on 6 July 2009, Senator Wyden on 28 February 2011, Senator Rubio on 15 March 2011, Senator Mark Warner on 30 January 2009 and 18 February 2009, Senator Risch on 22 April 2009, and Senator Collins on 19 April 2010. However, this list is not exhaustive and does not show where there have been brush-by meetings or when they have attended the same events (for example, dinners and receptions).”
Former Foreign Secretary William Hague has previously admitted that the British Government has engaged with the US over the issue of “UK material” in the SSCI’s torture reported, writing in a letter to Reprieve that: “We have made representations to seek assurance that ordinary procedures for clearance of UK material will be followed in the event that UK material provide [sic] to the Senate Committee were to be disclosed.”
Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “This is yet more evidence of the desperate attempts being made by the UK to censor the Senate’s report on CIA torture. We already know that our Government was up to its neck in the CIA’s programme of rendition and torture – making it highly likely that the Senate’s report will contain information which is deeply embarrassing for them. But simple embarrassment is not a justification for supressing the truth. Ministers must change course and instead support the publication of this crucial report in the most open and transparent form.”