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Friday, February 12, 2010 

The seven paragraphs fallout continues.

It's not very often that you see the British state act in such apparent unison as it has over the last couple of days. It's reminiscent of the behaviour of a dog or a child that knows it's done something wrong but carries on acting belligerently regardless, hoping that by doing so you'll concentrate on the reaction rather than the initial offence. In what was almost certainly a carefully choreographed move, we've had the home and foreign secretaries both writing to newspapers to complain bitterly that they dared to report what their chief legal Rottweiler almost ordered a judge not to write in his ruling, while over in the Telegraph Jonathan Evans himself makes a rare appearance in customary obfuscatory spook fashion, suggesting that not only this could all be part of a propaganda war but that also we seem to be indulging in "conspiracy theories and caricature".

You could be forgiven for thinking that the government and intelligence agencies were worried by such unpleasant but also undeniable insights into how they have in the recent past operated against their own citizens and residents. Surely though, it must all be part of an over active imagination. Clearly, slurs and "ludicrous lies" are being told about the organisations that are working as we speak to keep us safe from those who would do every single one of us harm. When Jonathan Evans says, "[W]e did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf", then who are we to disagree?

It doesn't seem to matter that at every single step of the way, from the first investigations into what has become known as "extraordinary rendition", which were the work of newspapers and investigative journalists, not as Evans seems to claim, "taken from our own records", all the way now up to the allegations made in parliament by David Davis concerning the almost outsourcing of torture in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, that both the government and the security services have denied being involved either in torture or being complicit in its use. Try to spot the difference between what Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs committee back in 2005 and the denials of everything that have poured forth today:

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

Since then we've learned of the use of Diego Garcia for rendition, the cases of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who were rendered to Guantanamo after MI6 told the CIA that they were carrying bomb parts when they weren't, of the over 100 different flights which passed through this country which were involved in the rendition programme and of the handing over to the Americans of Iraqi prisoners, who were swiftly taken to Bagram airbase, home of an especially notorious "black site" prison.

At the very heart of this is the continued refusal to accept that the security services knew almost from the very beginning that the US was mistreating prisoners held under the auspices of the "war on terror". In one of the few revealing documents given to the Intelligence and Security Committee in their otherwise worthless investigations into rendition and prisoner mistreatment was a memo from the 11th of January 2001, issued to both MI5 and MI6 officers telling them that they "could not engage in inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners" but they also had no obligation to stop it from happening. This was after one officer had reported back that the detainee he had interviewed had been tortured by US personnel. Despite this, the ISC completely believed the story it was told by both government and the intelligence agencies that they didn't realise properly what the US was doing until the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, a point repeated by Jonathan Evans today, that it was "slow to detect the emerging pattern". It had detected it all right, it just did nothing about it until it blew up in the Americans' faces, hoping like they did that they could get away with. Likewise, the ISC considered the fact that MI5 had provided questions to the Americans which were subsequently used while Binyam Mohamed was tortured in Morocco as "regrettable", as was the fact that it hadn't sought assurances that he wouldn't be mistreated. As the seven paragraphs have now made clear, MI5 knew full well that Mohamed was already being tortured, yet it still did nothing to help him and sent on the questions for him to be asked regardless. What is that if not active complicity in torture?

Nick Clegg is close to getting somewhere when he suggests that ministers themselves must have known about this policy of non-involvement but also non-condemnation of ill-treatment. This though is where things start getting truly murky: the Guardian has previously reported that Tony Blair knew, but not until after the Abu Ghraib scandal. This would tie in with the claims of the security services that they couldn't possibly have known about the US policy of mistreatment until then. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that the ministers didn't know, or at least only had an inkling and that the security services had kept it a secret from them up until it was no longer possible to. It's plausible and would also explain just why the security services keep up the ridiculous pretence that they didn't know until then, hence also why both were so outraged when Lord Neuberger claimed that MI5 was unaccountable even to the politicians supposedly in charged, having got far too close to the actuality.

Is that letting them off the hook somewhat, if it turns out to be the case? Certainly. We've known for years about the antics of the intelligence agencies, and especially how in the past they reacted to Labour governments, as well as their infiltration of completely harmless leftist organisations throughout the 70s and 80s, and for the current generation to forget about those scandals is unforgivable. Did even they though imagine that they would become complicit in torture in such a way? They're responsible and accountable, but it could well be that the security services remained even more out of control than us "conspiracy theorists and caricaturists" imagined.

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