Martin Mubanga, British-Zambian nationality was denied consular support – on government orders. Foreign Office staff feared that interference from Downing Street over an al-Qaida suspect would open them up to charges of “concealed extradition”, according to freshly released documents.
Files emerging from the high court case brought by six UK claimants over their clandestine removal to Guantánamo Bay in 2002 reveal the extent of the row.
The increasingly irate exchanges between the British embassy in Zambia and London over the case of Martin Mubanga expose the deep unease felt by Foreign Office staff about the withholding of consular support from a man who held joint British-Zambian nationality.
The additional material, released today, sheds further light on the government’s decision-making as it approved the handing over of UK suspects, who had never been charged or tried, to US control. It also highlights the close involvement of the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw.
Downing Street’s insistence on their removal and the denial of consular access over-rode reservations, harboured by some in the Foreign Office, about the proper treatment of detainees.
Mubanga had been detained in Zambia in March 2002 in the global security alert after 9/11. He spent nearly three years in Guantánamo Bay. Consulted about the Mubanga case in August 2002, an unnamed desk officer in the Special Cases section of the Foreign Office’s Consular Division warned: “… We are going to be open to charges of concealed extradition.”
There were several legal problems to possible later prosecution, he anticipated. “As an apparent ‘dual national’ Mubanga was entitled for us to try and get consular access … in accordance with our stated policy.
“We didn’t seek consular access in Zambia, which meant we broke our policy despite us knowing there was a significant question mark over the Zambian aspect of his nationality.”
The notes between London and Lusaka grew more angry. “This is getting ridiculous,” one diplomat cabled the Foreign Office. “What disturbs us most here is the determination to blame us for the schizophrenic way in which policy on this whole case was handled in London.
“I will gladly send you a personal, secret telegram – spelling out the constraints under which we were placed by edicts from London…” The reference to London, later notes make clear, include reference to “a message from No 10 that under no circumstances should Mubanga be allowed to return to the UK.”
Shortly after Mubanga’s detention, Jack Straw telegrammed Lusaka . “Mubanga is reported as volatile and may have a history of physical violence,” the Foreign Secretary wrote. “Any consular staff visiting the reported detainee should satisfy themselves with the security arrangements before meeting him.”
Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who established the Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said: “I am appalled but not entirely surprised by the extent of British involvement in extraordinary rendition which these documents appear to reveal. I was extremely concerned to read the telegram [giving the go-ahead for removing those detained in Afghanistan to Guantánamo] attributed to Jack Straw. If it is from him, it reveals that as foreign secretary in 2002 he stated that the transfer of UK detainees to Guantánamo Bay was the ‘best way’ and should take place ‘as soon as possible’ after the detainees had been interviewed by a British team.”
“Yet Jack Straw subsequently claimed that he had no knowledge of any British involvement in rendition. Worse, he dismissed the concerns of those of us who had raised this issue over many years as ‘conspiracy theories’. “I hope there is a good explanation. In the absence of one, for a Foreign Secretary to have issued such denials, after having apparently endorsed the rendition of UK detainees three years earlier, would further erode the public’s trust in politics. That has already been badly damaged by the Iraq war.”
Today the high court ordered the disclosure of further documents. Mr Justice Silber said he wanted “communications, and in particular emails, between or involving the prime minister’s office, the foreign secretary, the Foreign Office minister, the home secretary, the Home Office minister, the Ministry of Defence, the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, MI5 and or MI6″ in the eight months after 9/11.