U.K. threatened with legal action over "torture'' flights

Hasan Suroor

LONDON: The British Government has been threatened with court action over accusations that it has been allowing the country's airspace to be used by American planes to transport terror suspects to countries where they might be tortured.

The civil rights group Liberty has set a two-week deadline for the Government to investigate the allegations, failing which it could take the issue to court. Under international law, it is illegal for countries where torture is prohibited to send people to places where it is permitted.

It has been alleged that at least 210 CIA flights have used British airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, since the September 11 attacks to fly suspected terrorists to interrogation centres in countries, known for using brutal methods to extract information.

The Government has been under growing pressure to clarify its position after The Guardian first reported the alleged instances of what is known as "extraordinary rendition'' two months ago. While the Foreign Office has claimed that it has no evidence to support the allegation, MPs are not satisfied and the Commons committee on foreign affairs has called the Government's stand as one of "obfuscation''.

Shami Chakrabarty, director of Liberty, has written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and senior police officers demanding an investigation.

"They have position obligations under international law and under our Human Rights Act to investigate, and that's what we ask them to do,'' she told the BBC.