In a serious embarrassment to the CIA's official record on rendition flights, the agency acknowledged today that a U.K. territory was twice used as a stopover point for planes transporting terror detainees, in contradiction to previous statements that the U.K. was not involved.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had repeatedly told the British Parliament that neither U.K. airspace nor land was used in the U.S. rendition program.
But today the U.K. government announced that it had been informed by the U.S. that a U.K. territory in the Indian Ocean was twice used as a refueling point for flights carrying suspected terrorists.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the U.K. was not aware of these flights until being notified recently by the U.S. that they had occurred. The correction is bound to cause tension between the U.S. and the U.K., and Miliband said he's already spoken to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the error.
"We both agree that the mistakes made in these two cases are not acceptable, and she shares my deep regret that this information has only just come to light," said Miliband. "She emphasized to me that the U.S. government came to us with this information quickly after they discovered it."
CIA Director Mike Hayden sent a statement to agency employees this morning confirming that indeed the agency's earlier statements "supplied in good faith, turned out to be wrong."
Director Hayden wrote that after the agency took a fresh look at its records, the mistake was discovered.
"That we found the mistake ourselves, and that we brought it to the attention of the British Government, in no way changes or excuses the reality that we were in the wrong," wrote Hayden.
In his e-mail, Hayden said that the U.K. territory known as Diego Garcia was twice used as a refueling stop for rendition flights in 2002. Neither of the detainees aboard each flight, according to Hayden, was a high-value terrorist. One was transferred to Guantanamo, and the other was returned to his home country.
The statement also noted that Diego Garcia was never used as a holding facility for terror detainees and that the prisoners were not transferred for the purpose of torture. "Torture is against our law and values," wrote Hayden.
Stephen Grey is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA's Rendition and Torture Program" (St. Martin's Press). He is an award-winning investigative reporter who has contributed to the New York Times, BBC, PBS and ABC News among others.