Skip to main content

US staff on British base given diplomatic immunity during 'war on terror'

Redacted documents show British ministers repeatedly extended immunity to around 200 American civilian and technical staff at RAF Croughton
RAF Croughton
Newly released documents reveal that, in 2006, UK ministers extended the immunity of personnel at RAF Croughton (AFP/File photo)

Around 200 American staff at a UK military base were given diplomatic immunity for their roles in the US-led "war on terror" and the Iraq war, the Times has reported.

The revelation has raised questions about Britain's role in Washington's extraordinary rendition and alleged torture programme over the past two decades.

Newly released documents show that the UK government repeatedly extended diplomatic immunity to around 200 US civilian and technical staff members at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Croughton station, about 60 miles northwest of London.

The move was reportedly carried out because of the "increased demands brought on by the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq".

The immunity was believed to still be in place, according to the Times, which first reported the story.

Reprieve, an organisation supporting the victims of human rights abuses, said the UK played a central role in enabling the rendition of suspects during the war on terrorism.

This included Libyan dissidents Sami al-Saadi and Abdulhakim Belhaj, who were detained with the help of British spies and sent to Libya, where they were tortured by the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

UK spy agencies used details extracted under torture to detain Libyans, say lawyers
Read More »

Saadi and Belhaj sued the British government, accusing it of unlawful imprisonment, blackmail and malfeasance in public office.

"Only by fully investigating this dark part of British history can we hope not to make the same mistakes again," Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, said in a statement to the Times.

"We need an independent, judge-led inquiry into the UK involvement in torture and rendition."

David Davis, a former British cabinet minister, asked why so many US citizens needed diplomatic immunity during the Iraq war.

"The only thing I can think of that makes sense is that they were involved in things which might have been in breach of British law," he told The Times.

"Was it in support of rendition flights, or ambushes and arrests and so on? That would mean our allies were carrying out activities in contravention of our policies, and we were giving them immunity."

The RAF Croughton base is of particular significance after the death of a teenager last year.

Harry Dunn, 19, was riding his motorbike when he was hit by a car driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an official at the base. Sacoolas fled the UK claiming she had diplomatic immunity.

The documents were obtained as a part of the Dunn family's judicial review, challenging the UK government's decision to allow Sacoolas to leave the country.

"What happened to Harry Dunn was devastating," Foa added.

"His family should never have had to go through this and we extend our deepest sympathies to them."