- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

LONDON

Britain was swept into a new row over the rendition of terror suspects Thursday by acknowledging that British troops in Iraq handed over two men to the United States, which then sent them to Afghanistan for interrogation.

Defense Secretary John Hutton told lawmakers the information was discovered after a thorough review of detentions in Iraq and Afghanistan - an acknowledgment that seemingly contradicted previous government denials of facilitating renditions.

Mr. Hutton said some British officials knew of the transfer in 2004 and that former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw - now the justice secretary - knew since 2006. Mr. Straw’s office offered no comment Thursday.

“I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department,” Mr. Hutton told lawmakers. “In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time.”

The two detainees - Pakistani men accused of being members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Lashkar-e-Taiba - were captured in 2004 and are still being held in Afghanistan.

Mr. Hutton said he learned of the situation in December.

Britain is facing growing pressure to explain how much it knew about the United States’ use of extraordinary renditions - the practice of sending terror suspects to foreign countries where harsher interrogation techniques have been used.

Questions were raised first over whether the British government knew that rendition flights had refueled on British soil but then turned to why the government didn’t know about the rendition of British residents and nationals. Now the question is over Britain’s role in handing over terror suspects to the Americans.

“How is it possible that we’ve been so careless with our own prisoners, nationals and residents?” asked Shami Chakra-barti, director of the human rights group Liberty. “Either we didn’t know what was happening or we chose not to know.”

Britain’s attorney general is investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing by British officials in the case of Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident who was released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday. He says that the Americans sent him to Morocco where he was tortured for 18 months and that Britain knew about it.

And in an embarrassing reversal last year, Britain was forced to admit that the British outpost on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia had twice been used by the United States as a refueling stop for the secret transfer of two terrorism suspects.

President Obama’s administration has said it plans to continue renditions, but it may limit the countries to which it sends terror suspects.

According to CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, Mr. Obama believes prisoners should be handed over only to countries that have a legal interest in them - their home countries or ones where prisoners have charges pending.

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