WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it had expressed regret to close ally Britain over inaccurate information Washington gave about U.S. planes carrying terrorism suspects that refueled on a British island.
“We came up with fresh information that in short order we shared with the British government,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “We regret that there was an error in providing initially that inaccurate information to a good friend and ally,” he told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday to express U.S. regret over the error, he told reporters.
Miliband told Britain’s parliament earlier on Thursday that contrary to earlier U.S. assurances, two planes used for “rendition flights” in 2002 had refueled at a U.S. base on the British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
The British government had previously insisted it was not aware of any British territory being used to transfer terrorism suspects outside normal extradition procedures since U.S. President George W. Bush took office in 2001.
McCormack strongly denied there was an initial cover-up in providing information to the British government about the flights and attributed it to an “administrative error” by the Central Intelligence Agency.
“This was nothing other than an administrative error. People did nothing but act in good faith based on the information that they had,” added McCormack.
CIA director Michael Hayden said in a statement there had been flawed records kept of the two flights in 2002.
“Our government had told the British that there had been no rendition flights involving their soil or airspace since 9/11. That information, supplied in good faith, turned out to be wrong,” said Hayden.
“That we found this mistake ourselves, and that we brought it to the attention of the British Government, in no way changes or excuses the reality that we were in the wrong,” he added.
Hayden said neither of the individuals on board the two U.S. flights was part of the CIA’s “high-value terrorist interrogation program.”
One suspect was ultimately transferred to the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects on a U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while the other was returned to his home country. Hayden did not name the two suspects or provide further details.
“These were rendition operations, nothing more. There has been speculation in the press over the years that CIA had a holding facility on Diego Garcia. That is false. There have also been allegations that we transport detainees for the purpose of torture. That, too, is false,” he added.
The U.S. rendition program as well as allegations of torture of terrorism suspects has caused serious frictions with close U.S. allies.
The White House also expressed regret over the wrong information provided to Britain but said both countries would continue to have good counter-terrorism cooperation.
“It’s unfortunate mistakes were made in the reporting of the information, but we will continue to have good counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom,” Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters traveling with Bush in Liberia.
Additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen in Washington and Tabassum Zakaria in Monrovia, editing by Jackie Frank