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Thursday, April 18, 2013 

Unacceptable in the 80s.

Seeing as we've spent pretty much the last ten days going over old wounds, it seems a shame to break the pattern now.  Let's strike a slightly different note though: of all the myriad of things that Thatcher and Reagan inflicted on their respective countries, one thing neither did was authorise or condone the use of torture.  While it's certainly true that Reagan for one had no qualms about participating in the most dirty, even treasonous (as would be alleged by the opposite side if it was the other way round; they almost got Clinton impeached for having his dick sucked, for comparison's sake) underhand dealings, as evidenced by his administration's funding of the Contras by the secret selling of arms to Iran, 25 years ago today the US signed the UN Convention Against Torture.  On sending it to the Senate a month later, Reagan commented that the treaty "clearly express[es] United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today".

Quarter of a century on, the record of Thatcher and Reagan's heirs is starting to be laid bare.  We already knew much about the extraordinary rendition programme and how "enhanced interrogation techniques" were authorised in the aftermath of 9/11, but the Task Force on Detainee Treatment report, commissioned by the Constitution Project, is the best effort yet to draw together how the policy progressed and was instituted, starting with the opening of Guantanamo and following on to its practice in Iraq.  Their key finding is that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture".  No fudging, no moving of the goal posts; torture, whether directly authorised or not, was used.  Nor do they shy away from the argument of some that such harsh techniques had results.  They conclude that there is "substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable".  Views are mixed as to whether the film Zero Dark Thirty actively suggests that the testimony given by one tortured detainee helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden (the report says that it does; I haven't seen it so can't judge), but it most certainly is not the "first draft of history" as claimed by Kathryn Bigelow.

The Constitution Project set up its own panel to investigate the treatment of detainees after the Obama administration decided not to take any further action or open any investigation into what went on during the first phase of the "war on terror".  Back here in Blighty, where there is nothing to suggest that torture was ever sanctioned by a minister but plenty of evidence that collusion with the US in the rendition programme most certainly was authorised, the Gibson inquiry was meant to provide answers.  Instead it was unceremoniously abandoned, ostensibly on the grounds that the police needed to investigate the involvement of the security services and ministers in the rendition to Libya of two former members of the LIFG, which had links to al-Qaida, although one suspects the boycott by human rights groups at the limited scope of the inquiry also had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, Gibson and his team wrote up a report on the evidence they had sifted through and handed it over to the government.  That was nine months ago, and there is as yet no indication as to when it might be published.  Seen alongside the fight over the closed material procedures section of the justice and security act, designed to stop the courts from ever releasing material such as that which confirmed the security services knew about the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed and did nothing to stop it, it more than implies that the coalition, having been lobbied extensively by both MI5 and SIS, has now decided upon a similar course to that of the US.

We could undoubtedly give too much credit to both Reagan and Thatcher over their stance, although Simon Jenkins was right yesterday to highlight how the latter's response to nearly being killed by the IRA was to carry on almost as if nothing had happened.  Both cuddled up to regimes that most certainly did and continue to torture their own citizens, while at the funeral yesterday were such noted humanitarians as Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney (arch defender of waterboarding) and Benjamin Netanyahu. There can be little doubt however as to which administrations will be judged most harshly on their foreign policies by history.

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