Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.
MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely. The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees to places where they may be tortured.
This ought to be front page news, but inevitably it will be quietly forgotten and the posthumous canonisation of Robin Cook will proceed unabated. It does rather make a mockery of the government's posturing on terrorism though. The report concludes that:
But 1998 and 1999 were not the only times Britain had Bin Laden in its sights. In January 1996 the Home Office wrote to him when he was in Sudan. The letter, seen by the Guardian, advised him that Michael Howard, then home secretary, had "given his personal direction that you be excluded from the United Kingdom on the grounds that your presence...would not be conducive to the public good."
Indeed it would not. No doubt the pens of a thousand BBC hacks are penning a tale of how Bin Laden was driven to terrorism by Britain's fascist immigration laws.