Jack Straw will try today to deflect criticism of the Governments handling of the rendition scandal, after a leaked Foreign and Commonwealth Office document proposed that the debate be stifled.
In a written statement to Parliament, the Foreign Secretary will insist that he has made public all details of CIA flights passing through Britain, which human rights activists believe include the transfer of terrorist suspects being flown to third countries for interrogation.
Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the House, yesterday ruled out a full Commons debate. Yet the row appears to be gaining momentum. Next week a Swiss senator publishes an interim report for the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament has set up a committee of inquiry. As the memo written by Irfan Siddiq, a private secretary in Mr Straws office, to Grace Cassy in No 10, made clear, rendition is almost certainly against international law.
It does remain true that we are not aware of the use of UK territory or air space for the purposes of extraordinary rendition, he wrote on December 7.
But we think we should now try to move the debate on from the specifics of rendition, extraordinary or otherwise, and focus people instead on (Condoleezza) Rices clear assurance that all US activities are consistent with their domestic and international obligations and never include the use of torture.
He added: We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail, at least until we have been able to complete the research required to establish what has happened even since 1997; and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way as we can, underlining the strong counter-terrorist rationale for close co-operation with the US within our legal obligations.
Mr Straw has previously revealed that the Clinton Administration requested permission to pass prisoners through Britain on four occasions in 1998. One of the two refusals was because the suspect was being moved to Egypt, where he faced the risk of torture.
Mr Straw contends that to his knowledge no detainees have passed through Britain since the September 11 attacks. But the memo said that the papers we have unearthed so far suggest there could be more cases.
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.