UK gave bulk immunity to American personnel working on key ‘war on terror’ ops base

September 2, 2020

Image of drones

Some 200 American personnel benefited from a bulk diplomatic immunity deal as the UK base they were working on expanded its ‘war on terror’ operations – according to court documents from the case of Harry Dunn – who was killed in a hit-and-run in 2019. The revelations were reported in The Times, today.

The documents show how in 1995, 2001, and 2006, FCO officials made a case to ministers to extend diplomatic immunity – including providing immunity from criminal prosecution – to an estimated 200 staff working at the RAF Croughton base in Sussex, where Ms Sacoolas lived at the time of the incident which killed Harry Dunn.

The documents are heavily redacted, but a ministerial submission from 2006 gives one reason for granting bulk immunity: the base’s role in ‘war on terror’ operations. This 2006 submission to Ministers notes the “increased demands brought on by the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq” and raises a concern that granting bulk diplomatic immunity to multiple US staff would provoke a “possible read-across by the media to rendition flights”.

Harry Dunn’s alleged killer, Anne Sacoolas, claimed diplomatic immunity in order to avoid trial. The Dunn family is challenging the Foreign Office’s role in allowing Ms Sacoolas to leave the country.

Maya Foa, Reprieve’s Director, said: “What happened to Harry Dunn was devastating. His family should never have had to go through this, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them. 

“The shockwaves of the worst of the ‘war on terror’ have been felt for far too long. Only by fully investigating this dark part of British history can we hope not to make the same mistakes again. We need an independent, judge-led inquiry into the UK involvement in torture and rendition’.” 

Background

It is now known that the UK played an active role in facilitating “extraordinary rendition” operations by the US Government, and Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee ultimately judged that the UK had a “corporate policy” of facilitating renditions during the war on terror, highlighting at least 30 cases where the UK was involved in such transfers, including those of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar to Colonel Ghaddafi’s torture chambers in Libya.

The ministerial submissions show a steady increase in the number of Americans granted immunity at the same time the UK was becoming more involved in war on terror renditions. Following the agreement in 2001, the CIA’s torture and rendition programme spread across the world, with the UK helping to arrange the rendition and torture of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj in 2004. It was only two years later that the further 2006 expansion was agreed. At least 9 renditions took place after this time according to the Rendition Project at Westminster and Sheffield Universities.

The same period saw an increase in the use of weaponised drones for war on terror operations, with US drone strikes in Pakistan beginning in 2004. Since then the US drone programme has claimed the lives of 4,925 people in Pakistan and Yemen, including more than 250 children, as well as peace activists and acclaimed journalists. 80% of those killed have never even been identified by name.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned the UK’s policy on lethal drone strikes endangers UK personnel by leaving them in “considerable doubt about whether what they are being asked to do is lawful” and that it “may therefore expose them, and Ministers, to the risk of criminal prosecution for murder or complicity in murder.”

ENDS