We go to London to speak with Andrew Tyrie, a member of British parliament with the Tory party. He is chairman of the recently-formed All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. [includes rush transcript]
- Andrew Tyrie, member of British parliament. He is a Tory MP and chairman of All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by a British Member of Parliament, Andrew Tyrie, who is a Tory, a chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ANDREW TYRIE: Hello.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the issue of the responsibility of countries that either allow planes to land and take off, that are known to be carrying these — some call them kidnapped people — people who are going through extraordinary rendition, and also the facilities, for example, in Britain, if there are, places, black sites, where these people are being interrogated or tortured?
ANDREW TYRIE: Well, let’s deal with each of those points in turn. First of all, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me fairly clear that since Britain, for example, has incorporated the U.N. Convention Against Torture directly into its domestic law, if we are knowingly allowing flights to pass through the U.K., land there, have refueling, and then go on, knowing that it’s likely that people are going to be tortured, it strikes me that those actions must make us complicit in the torture and that, therefore, we have broken the Convention. Likewise, I suspect that we may have broken the Human Rights Act if we have done this. There would also be possibly breaches to the criminal law, the ordinary criminal law, which, of course, prohibits torture, and that’s a question which another pressure group in Britain called Liberty is actually pursuing with the police authorities at the moment.
As far as your second question is concerned, the problem is, none of us know the facts. None of us know whether there is any holding center in the U.K. I think that’s unlikely, because I think we would have got to hear about it. I suspect that’s perhaps why the Americans have been — administration has been setting up these in countries in Eastern Europe. So, I don’t know whether that’s the case. But I think it’s unlikely. What I do know — I hope I have not gone on too long — what I do know is that we need a healthy debate about this in a democracy, and we need to make up our minds whether this is the right way to go. I don’t; I think torturing people is likely to make the war against terrorism more difficult, not less difficult. Of course, Condoleezza Rice has now said we must have this healthy debate, but only yesterday her spokesman, Mr. Hanley, was saying these are things that shouldn’t be talked about in public. And there does seem to be a pretty flat contradiction between those two points.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know how many flights, torture flights, have gone through Britain?
ANDREW TYRIE: No. And there are many allegations being made by plane spotters and others that this may be in dozens or hundreds. But it’s so difficult to know; unless one can get onto the plane and inspect and find out what’s going on, we can’t know. What I do think is — which is what we will be pressing the government about in the — today and in the days and weeks ahead, that it’s up to the government to make an effort to find out. The benign neglect that they seem to be going in for at the moment is, in my view, absolutely outrageous. A former foreign office minister has himself said that there seems to be an extraordinary lack of curiosity on behalf of the British government about these actions.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to British M.P. Andrew Tyrie, a chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. What is the feeling in the British Parliament right now around this issue? And in Britain, do you call it “kidnapping”?
ANDREW TYRIE: Well, the attitude of a lot of people is deep concern without knowing quite where to turn. A lot of people in Britain, and I’m talking now more widely, British public opinion, are very, very concerned about terrorism. You have got to remember that in Britain, we have had 30 years of terrorism, so we’re quite experienced about it. And I know it’s relatively new for the United States, but it’s not at all new for us. We’ve got a spectrum of opinion from some saying, 'Well, if you can torture some information out of people and thereby save some lives, maybe that's a good thing,’ right the way through to those who think that torture under any circumstances is completely wrong.
I think that the mood of the British public opinion has moved much more in the direction of those who are against torture. And that’s because, I’m afraid, our closest ally, the United States — or I should really say the U.S. administration — has lost the confidence of a large chunk of British opinion and, indeed, European opinion. And it’s done that because, to us, used to terrorism as we are in Spain, Germany, France, Britain, we think America has overreacted. We think the U.S. administration overreacted to September 11, that regime change and preemptive action are not the way to go around trying to deal with terrorism, and that what we saw in Abu Ghraib and what we hear about from Guantanamo is not likely to win over the hearts and minds of moderate Muslim opinion.
And we know from hard experience — the British know in dealing with the I.R.A., the Irish terrorists, the French know from dealing with terrorists in Algeria, that these techniques, these very, very heavy-handed techniques tend to inflame the problem. So, it’s not just a question of my personal moral repugnance against all this that leads many to be concerned, but it is something much more practical, as well. Is this going to help us actually deal with the problem we’ve got? And in the view of, I think, an increasing number of the British population, and that’s reflected in Parliament, the answer to that is: No, it’s not helping us.
AMY GOODMAN: As a Tory M.P., I’m wondering how things break down politically, in terms of the parties, yours a more conservative party.
ANDREW TYRIE: Well, traditionally, the strongest repository of support for human rights issues is in the Labour Party. And so, it is, I suppose, ironic that it should be a conservative who is leading this group. I am a conservative. I should also say there’s a very strong strand of libertarian opinion in the Conservative Party, and I’m certainly part of that, who are deeply concerned about the infringement of civil and political liberties that’s taking place, not only in Britain but in many other countries. In Britain, we’ve had a — and indeed, we’re in the midst of a big debate about how long — for how long the government may detain people without trial, which is a related issue. And the government was recently defeated in a big debate in Parliament on that issue. The government was asking for 90 days, and that was rejected.
There are a good number of other issues, too, where there’s this tension between the libertarian strand and those who say, 'No, we're in a new world, we’ve got to be much tougher on terrorism.’ It crosses party lines now. The Conservative Party is not united, as it might — one might imagine from their name, behind a view of ’Let’s have tougher measures.’ The libertarian strand in conservatism in the Conservative Party is, at the moment, I think, much stronger than it was a short while ago, and of course, the Labour Party is deeply divided about it, and Tony Blair has trouble leading his party on these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, we’re going to stay with this issue, but because we have you on, I wanted to ask you about this whole issue of the Downing Street memo that the Blair government has forbid any newspaper in Britain to print, that allegedly involves a report that Tony Blair dissuaded President Bush from following through on bombing Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha in Qatar. Your response to that?
ANDREW TYRIE: Well, if it’s true, it reflects, I think, quite badly on the American administration, frankly, that there should be just this another example of a colossal misjudgment. I mean, can you think of anything more calculated to stir up moderate Muslim opinion than to go and bomb Al Jazeera? This is meant to be the leader of the democratic world.
The sadness is that for someone like myself, who is an absolutely cut and dried Atlanticist, for whom the alliance with the United States is the bedrock of everything I believe in, as far as defending my country is concerned, and with so many shared values, the irony is that we could be undermining the very values that we’re telling other countries that they should adopt. We’re undermining the values we’re seeking to export by some of the actions we are taking. And that’s just one example, if it’s true. As for the specifics of the memo, I am a freedom man, and I’m a freedom of information man. And clearly, a document like that should be put into the public domain, and that should happen immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you encouraging a newspaper to defy the Blair government and actually print this memo?
ANDREW TYRIE: Well, that’s a matter — I mean, there’s a good number of editors, who have made newspapers in Britain, sitting on it, I expect, and that will be a decision for them. My view is that this information should be in the public domain. It’s an example for those of us who believe in maximum freedom that we can get on such things that in the information age, to a great extent, the rules of discovery and obtaining information in the United States can assist us here in Britain, and vice versa. And that’s all to the good.
Maybe I can end on just an optimistic note, before we all get too gloomy about this. Only ten or 15 years ago, we were fighting an oppressive monolith in the form of the Soviet Union, and the forces of freedom are on the march everywhere, and the forces of oppression are in retreat. We won that Cold War, partly because we did not lower ourselves to their techniques, because we did hold out a better way of doing things to the peoples of Eastern Europe, Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Well, that’s the way now that we have got to embark on, beating this current wave of terrorism, not adopting their methods, but repudiating them and showing that we know a better way.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Andrew Tyrie, I want to thank you for being with us, a member of the British parliament, a Conservative, a Tory, chairman of the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. Thank you for being with us. Michael Ratner will remain with us, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and we’ll be joined by Stephen Grey, who writes for the Sunday Times of London, and exposed this week how the U.S. is operating secret flights to transport detainees to countries that torture prisoners.