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Scottish police to launch new probe into 'extraordinary rendition' flights

Police in Scotland will look into allegations that CIA “extraordinary rendition” flights passed through airports in the country, they said Thursday.

Police will examine new research into the flights, in which people suspected of being terrorists by the United States were held covertly at undisclosed locations around the world without recourse to legal process.

According to a report published February by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights advocacy group, as many as 54 nations aided the CIA's rendition and detention operations. It said more than 130 people were detained and detailed allegations of harsh treatment of some of the suspects.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, the chief prosecutor, told lawmakers on Wednesday that “the use of torture cannot be condoned. It is against international law and contrary to the common law of Scotland.”

In 2007 and 2008, Scottish police investigated similar claims about rendition flights, but concluded there was “insufficient credible and reliable information to enable them to commence a criminal investigation,” Mulholland said.

However, he said that new research by academics in England “should be the subject of police consideration.”

Police Scotland confirmed Thursday that a formal request from Mulholland's office to look into the new information had been received, and they would do so then report back to prosecutors.

At the Scottish parliament Wednesday, lawmaker Margo MacDonald asked Mulholland not to delay in investigating because the “evidence is there in front of his eyes.”

“The government … must stand up for the values to which the people of Scotland adhere and maintain the laws that we have held dear for centuries,” she said.

Mulholland replied he was “confident that the police will do their duty and will conduct a thorough inquiry.”

The new research was carried out by academics working on “The Rendition Project,” which was given about $118,000 in funding by the U.K. government’s Economic and Social Research Council.

One of the researchers, Sam Raphael, of Kingston University, London, said the Scottish decision to examine their work was a “positive first step in finally getting to the bottom of U.K. and Scottish involvement in a global network of illegal kidnappings, secret detention and torture.”

He said they had created an online database of 11,000 flights that may have been involved in rendition, though he stressed not all had been.

“This is the closest and most comprehensive picture to date of the movements of these aircraft across the world,” he said.

In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that directed that the CIA close its secret detention facilities in order to “promote the safe, lawful, and humane treatment of individuals” held by the United States. A task force established by the order produced recommendations in 2009 that would allow rendition to continue, but with measures to prevent “the transfer of individuals to face torture.”

At the time, the CIA’s then director Mike Hayden said that the agency had “many counter-terror tools in its arsenal” and the “rendition, detention and interrogation program has been an important one,” but the CIA would adjust its efforts to reflect the changes ordered by the president.

A 6,000-page review of CIA detention practices was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December last year. Committee chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement that the classified report “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight.”