British collusion with torture: the cover-up continues

In February this year, the British government suffered a major defeat over its attempts to cover up British security services’ collusion in the torture of terrorist suspects. Despite a year-long battle by Foreign Secretary David Miliband to prevent the publication of secret evidence in the case of Binyam Mohamed, the three most senior Court of Appeal judges in the country decided that the reasons for publishing were ‘compelling’ because they concerned the involvement of British agents in ‘the abhorrent practice of torture’.

This followed a US court finding in November 2009 that ‘the [US] government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of Binyam Mohamed’s story of brutal treatment’. That brutal treatment included being held by the US in Pakistan before being illegally rendered first to a CIA ‘dark prison’ in Afghanistan, then to Morocco, where his genitals were slashed with a scalpel, while MI5 fed questions, via CIA officers, to his torturers. Finally he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

In their ruling, the judges found that MI5 did not respect human rights, had not renounced participation in coercive interrogation techniques, had deliberately misled the Intelligence Services Committee (ISC) that was supposed to oversee its operations and operated a ‘culture of suppression’ in relation to government ministers and the court. The behaviour of MI5 agent ‘Witness B’, who had previously given evidence about his interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan while the latter was being tortured at the CIA’s behest, was not that of a rogue individual but, rather, ‘characteristic of the service as a whole’.

The Director General of MI5, Jonathan Evans, reacted furiously, accusing the courts and media of providing propaganda to the enemy and denying that MI5 ever colluded with torture. Home Secretary Alan Johnson rejected the torture accusations as ‘a ludicrous lie’ and Gordon Brown intoned the government mantra: ‘We do not torture and we do not ask others to do so on our behalf’. All, of course, were lying. This is why the government refuses to make public the guidance issued to the security services in 2002, which undermined the absolute prohibition on any kind of collusion with or even acquiescence to the use of torture. Under the new rules, agents were informed that if detainees ‘are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene’ to prevent torture. This was the green light to outsource torture. The case of Binyam Mohamed is only the tip of the iceberg.

What it has done, however, in the words of his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, is open ‘the Pandora’s box of immoral decisions made at the highest level of government’; as he has argued, responsibility for this criminal policy goes ‘all the way to Number 10’.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray raised concerns about CIA torture in Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004 only to be told: ‘It is not illegal for us to obtain intelligence gained by torture, provided that we did not do the torture ourselves.’ He continued: ‘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.’ It was also cleared by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Now the Labour government is continuing the cover-up. Six former Guantanamo detainees – Binyam Mohamed, Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes and Martin Mubanga – are suing the British ministers and security services for complicity in their detention, torture and ill-treatment. In a move criticised by lawyers as ‘incompatible with basic concepts of civil law’, the government is demanding that the case be heard in secret, with the six men represented by ‘special advocates’ who have been vetted and appointed by the court, and who will be able to see the government’s secret evidence but not discuss it with their clients. The fight to expose the government’s complicity with torture and illegal rendition must continue. Bring Labour war criminals to justice.

Cat Alison

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

 

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