Who wrote that FCO advice to No 10 on rendition?

Full marks to Martin Bright for his article in the New Statesman of 23 January 2006 [1] quoting extracts from the advice of Jack Straw’s private secretary, Irfan Siddiq, to Ms Grace Cassy, a private secretary at No. 10 Downing Street, on how best to handle questions about British involvement in the American practice of rendition (both ‘extraordinary’ and ‘ordinary’).  Full marks too once again — I seem to be praising it all the time these days for this and that — to Phil’s Actually Existing blog for a penetrating and thought-provoking analysis of the leaked document.  And, finally, full marks to the New Staggers itself for putting the full text of the FCO letter, all 20 paragraphs of it, on its website (PDF file).  

But I was struck by what could be the implications of a single rogue alphabetical letter in para 19 of the FCO document.  Here it is (please scroll down to see it):

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[Here it is:]


See what I mean?  Could it just possibly suggest an American input into the drafting?  The CIA, even?  Could Mr Siddiq possibly have saved himself trouble by copying-and-pasting into his letter a formula taken from some document thoughtfully provided by our American cousins, bless ’em?  I merely ask the question.  O, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practiCe to deceive…

[1] Only one NS article a day may be downloaded free by non-subscribers.


6 Responses

  1. Curious indeed!  You’ve certainly an excellent eye for detail.

  2. Ronnie says:

    Sorry, just technical.  Couldn’t get the FCO document on your link.  Suspect sabotage, probably wrongly.  Usually mea culpa. 

    Brian writes:  No, mea culpa.  Not sabotage: I omitted the .pdf suffix.  Sorry!  It should work all right now — provided that you have an Adobe Acrobat reader.  The full text is actually well worth reading, although the absence of a date is irritating.  I have a feeling that the print version of the New Statesman might carry a facsimile of the heading of the FCO letter (in Martin Bright’s article) which might include the date:  can anyone check and confirm?  It should be a date in early December 2005.  Incidentally, I have also corrected the Walter Scott quotation (‘first’, not ‘once’).

  3. Tim Weakley says:

    Sharp eyes!  Thanks for giving a hint.  I was looking for -or instead of -our, and -ize instead of -ise, and even e- instead of ae-.

  4. Peter Harvey says:

    Well spotted Brian, but I would like to comment here on Tim Weakley’s assumption that -ise is British and -ize is American. This is not the case. While it is true that -ize is the standard form in American English, British English is divided. The general British trend appears to be towards -ise (it is a good many years now since The Times changed its style) but Oxford still has -ize as its house style with its dictionaries recognising -ise as an alternative form.

    The belief that this is a clear transatlantic dichotomy was very probably advanced by Microsoft’s decision to incorporate it into its Word spell-checker. Now this has now been changed and current versions of its British English dictionary accept both forms.

  5. Aidan says:

    I also thought this was an excellent article. It is quite clear from the memo that they have carefully worked out how to deny it as far as possible without telling any direct lies. If this is so, then it strongly implies that anything not directly denied is probably true, and we can feel round the edges of the statements to get some idea of what is actually going on.

  6. Ronnie says:

    Thank you, Brian.  Para 2, I see, mentions the question"whether the United States practices torture, making a singular noun of all fifty-something of them.  Is it simply conceivable that grammatical and orthographic standards in the FCO are not what they were?  The letter as a whole does not sound to me like a huge revelation but rather as a reminder of an agreed but slippery "line to maintain".   

    Brian writes:  I think the general practice is to treat ‘the United States’, whether or not abbreviated to ‘the US’ (or the now archaic ‘the USA’) as a singular noun, as in the famous example of the once quasi-marxist New Statesman‘s use of ‘essentially’ to mean ‘not’:  "The United States is essentially a police state." 

    But I accept that the use of the American spelling of the verb to practise/practice in the FCO letter could just possibly reflect illiteracy plus the magnetic attraction of American usage — plus, presumably, technological ignorance in a failure to change the default of the FCO private office’s spell checker to ‘UK English’.

    You are probably right about the relative insignificance of the leaked FCO letter, although the exposure of slipperiness in the exposition and public defence of government policy ranks, surely, as a revelation of sorts, not necessarily unimportant, certainly illuminating;  and the passages about what kinds of rendition are certainly or probably illegal are also revealing, useful, damaging and otherwise moderately revelatory, or so it seems to me.