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New Controversy Faces Britain Over CIA Flights


A leaked British government document suggests that there are official doubts about the legality of allowing CIA flights carrying suspected terrorists to refuel at British airports.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing new controversy over whether Britain has helped the United States transfer suspected terrorists for interrogation.

In the latest development, British media have published details of a British Foreign Office memo, written in early December, that reportedly told Mr. Blair's office such cooperation would be illegal in most instances.

According to the reports, the Foreign Office memo also suggests there may have been more than the two requested U.S. rendition flights in 1998. Those flights were previously acknowledged by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Of those two flights, one was approved to transport a man to the United States who was a suspect in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The other request was denied because the suspect would have been flown to Egypt.

The leaked document, reprinted in the New Statesman magazine, outlines a strategy of trying to turn the debate away from the CIA flights and to focus instead on U.S. assurances that suspected terrorists are never tortured.

The publication has sparked calls from parliament for the government to explain what is going on.

The chairman of a cross-party parliamentary committee examining the rendition practices, Andrew Tyrie of the Conservative Party, has told British radio Mr. Blair faces a big political problem.

"The prime minister has set himself as a global leader in the war on terror, and he does not want a cigarette paper to come between himself and the United States and George Bush on any aspect of the policy on this," he said. "The vast majority of the British people do not agree with the policy and do not agree with the idea that people can be taken away, kidnapped in various parts of the world and then tortured somewhere."

A Blair spokesman says the critics are over-reacting to the memo, and that the government has abided by all of its international obligations with respect to rendition.