- Created: Wednesday, 02 September 2009 15:24
- Written by Cat Wiener
‘The main responsibility lies with those who established the policy of abuse, not with the functionaries who carried out their orders.’ Binyam Mohamed
The British government is under pressure. With even sections of the ruling class now denouncing the shadowy, sinister role played in the ‘war on terror’ by the intelligence services, and demanding to know which ministers knew what when, this Labour government is increasingly unable to hide behind the fiction of ‘national security’ as more and more evidence of its secret and illegal policy on torture is forced into the public domain. Cat Wiener reports.
On 7 July, using parliamentary privilege, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis was able to reveal hitherto secret evidence in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed from Manchester, who is serving a life sentence in Britain on terrorism charges after being detained and tortured in Pakistan. He has consistently claimed that MI5 were involved in questioning him during his detention in Pakistan, ignoring his claims of torture and clear signs of ill-treatment. What Davis revealed was that MI5 and Greater Manchester police had had enough evidence to prosecute Ahmed on serious terrorism charges in 2005. Nonetheless, he was permitted to travel to Pakistan so that he could be detained by the Pakistan security service ISI – notorious for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees – on a tip-off from MI6. As Davis made clear:
‘We…know that the intelligence officer who wrote to the Pakistanis did so in full knowledge of the normal methods used by the ISI against terrorist suspects that it holds…The officer would therefore be aware that “suggesting” arrest was equivalent to “suggesting” torture.’
In Pakistan, Ahmed was beaten with cables and rubber whips, deprived of sleep, sexually humiliated and had three fingernails extracted, while facing questions drawn up by MI5 and Greater Manchester Police. He was also visited by MI5.
Pakistani intelligence sources told Human Rights Watch that in another case, that of Salahuddin Amin, convicted in Britain in 2007 on terrorist charges after being tortured into making a false confession, British and US demand for information was ‘insatiable’ and added that the British and US agents who were party to his detention were ‘perfectly aware that we were using all means possible to extract information from him and were grateful that we were doing so’.
Lawyers for Amin and Ahmed are taking legal action to force the Home Secretary to ‘establish a public inquiry to investigate the complicity of government employees in the illegal detention and torture’ of both men and several others. In April 2009, Rangzieb Ahmed was visited in his cell by MI5 and a police officer who attempted to bribe him to drop the torture allegations.
Davis also cited 15 other cases in the last year of ‘British citizens or residents claiming to be tortured by foreign intelligence agencies with the knowledge, complicity and in some cases, presence of British intelligence officers’ and decried the government’s ‘improper use of state secrecy to cover up the evidence’ of British collusion in torture.
‘All the way to Number 10’
What is now known is that none of these cases – and this is but the tip of the iceberg – was simply the actions of a few rogue security agents but rather, followed an official, secret new policy on torture that was drawn up after 2001 by senior government lawyers and security services chiefs and sanctioned at the very highest levels of government. As Tony Blair put it, ‘the rules of the game have changed’. In direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, international human rights legislation and British domestic law – which makes it a crime for any British official to even acquiesce to torture – the new guidance made it clear that while agents must be at pains not to be seen to condone torture, if detainees ‘are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene’ to prevent torture. And so, through this legal sleight of hand, the policy of outsourcing torture – to Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates – by Britain was enshrined.
The fiction of an all-pervasive ‘national security’ was invoked at every turn to cover up the fact that suspects were routinely sent to countries where they could be tortured on behalf of the British security services and convicted on testimony extracted through torture. Small wonder that Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith has argued that the government’s ever-expanding fixation with secrecy under the guise of ‘protecting national security’ is in fact a desperate attempt to avoid prosecution for war crimes.
‘We now know why the Foreign Secretary was so insistent on keeping this torture policy from the British people,’ Stafford Smith said. ‘It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with the Pandora’s box of immoral decisions made at the highest level of government.’
Responsibility for this criminal policy goes, he argues, ‘all the way to Number 10’. It was approved by then Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and almost certainly then Home Secretary David Blunkett. Craig Murray, who was British ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004, sent reports back to Britain highlighting his concerns about British collusion with the CIA in the torture of suspects. He was summoned back to Britain to be told that ‘it is not illegal for us to obtain intelligence gained by torture, provided that we did not do the torture ourselves. I was told that it had been decided that as a matter of War on Terror policy we should now obtain intelligence from torture, following discussion between Jack Straw and [MI6 chief] Richard Dearlove…In conclusion, I can testify that beyond any doubt the British government has for at least six years had a considered but secret policy of co-operation with torture abroad. This policy was cleared by government legal advisers and approved by Jack Straw as Secretary of State’.
When current Foreign Secretary David Miliband – who has twisted and turned to avoid the truth about Binyam Mohamed being revealed – told the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) ‘We would never say to another intelligence agency “please get us information about X” and …abandon our legal and ethical commitments in respect of how you find that’, he lied. When Blair claims he never authorised the use of torture, he lies, as do Straw and Blunkett and current Labour Prime Minister Brown and all the other compromised ministers who endlessly repeat their stale mantra of how Britain would ‘never condone torture’: that is exactly what they did.
While Brown has bowed to pressure and said that the policy will be rewritten, David Miliband has appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee to vigorously assert the government’s right to keep earlier editions of the policy secret lest it ‘give succour to our enemies’. He added that the policy had been reviewed by the ISC, which was fully able to ‘square the circle between secrecy and accountability’. This is the same ISC that sits in secret, its reports to the prime minister published only after being censored in consultation with the intelligence agencies themselves, and it is headed by Kim Howells, himself Labour’s Foreign Office minister during the period when much of the torture occurred.
Bring Labour war criminals to justice
In the past, the ruling class has been more than happy to sanction torture to further its imperialist rule of terror, for example in Ireland and Kenya. But years of diligent reporting by journalists such as the Guardian’s Ian Cobain, who has doggedly followed the trail of government-sanctioned crimes, torture and rendition flights, and Andy Worthington of Counterpunch, together with relentless campaigning by detainees, their families and lawyers, have forced evidence of government and security services collusion with torture into the public domain. Establishment voices are calling for an inquiry. Some, such as the military and intelligence figures who form the Institute of Public Policy Research’s security commission fear that the use of torture will backfire, providing ‘a propaganda coup for radical jihadi groups’; opposition parties sense that the Labour government is fatally wounded and are baying to bring it down.
But whatever inquiry emerges from these manoeuvres will be a whitewash if it does not result in the criminal prosecution of Tony Blair and Jack Straw, who when in office deliberately made torture into official policy, and Gordon Brown, former Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Jacqui Smith and Foreign Secretary David Miliband who were complicit in the cover-up. Anyone who can still call for a vote for Labour is no less morally bankrupt than this vile, blood-soaked government of torturers and criminals.
British murder, torture and rendition
Baha Mousa was working as a hotel receptionist in Basra in 2003 when British troops surrounded the building and arrested him along with six other men. They were taken to a British barracks, hooded and beaten. Two days later Mousa was dead. His family was given $3,000 and rejected a further $5,000. What they wanted was justice. Like countless other Iraqi families they are still waiting for justice. The Ministry of Defence faces hundreds of claims for abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers. As Andrew Johnson in The Independent states, ‘Lawyers say emerging evidence of abuses, including use of electric shocks, points to a systematic policy of sensory deprivation and beatings throughout the occupation of Basra, which must have been authorised by senior officers and politicians and known to hundreds of soldiers.’ It is inconceivable that the government was not aware of such systematic abuse. The government has also been forced to reluctantly agree to an inquiry into the massacre of 20 civilians.
Meanwhile interviews by the BBC with 27 prisoners held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2008 reveal a regime of routine beatings, noise torture and shackling in ‘stress’ positions. There is evidence that Britain has rendered at least two prisoners in its custody to that base.
No prisoner in Bagram has been allowed to see a lawyer, or challenge his detention. The US justice department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time.
Law Lords condemn control orders
On 10 June, British Law Lords delivered a resounding blow to the government’s use of control orders, finding, in effect, that the right to a fair trial overrides ‘national security’ claims. Following this ruling, on 28 June, the High Court quashed control orders imposed on six Iraqi men living in Britain.
Control orders, introduced in 2005, are a draconian form of house arrest. Suspects are tagged, restricted in whom they can meet or talk to and where they can go, forbidden to use the internet or mobile phones and subject to unannounced raids by the Home Office.
Suspects do not know what they are accused of, and any evidence against them can only be seen by a special advocate – who is not however allowed to discuss that evidence with their client. They cannot work or study, family life is destroyed; some have become suicidal.
In the case of three men identified only as AF, AE and AN, the nine Law Lords unanimously ruled that control orders breach Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. As Lord Hope of Craigshead put it ‘The fundamental principle is that everyone is entitled to the disclosure of sufficient material to enable him to answer effectively the case against him…If the rule of law is to mean anything, it is in cases such as these that the court must stand by principle.’
FRFI 210 August / September 2009