Saturday, April 07, 2007 

Losing the moral high ground.

Sensory deprivation, as practiced on US terrorism suspect Jose Padilla.

We shouldn't play down the apparent ill-treatment suffered by the 15 captured British sailors while in Iranian custody. By any measure, a mock execution, whether authorised by those in charge of "looking after" those arrested or simply the guards themselves messing around, is a traumatic and unpleasant experience. Being blindfolded, especially for a long period of time, leaves the mind to fill the visual gap, replaying images which the brain would normally suppress. Separating Faye Turney from her comrades and telling her they had been sent home was an odious psychological trick, whether she believed it or not. Sleep deprivation quickly leads to hallucinations, lethargy and compliance.

And yet, it's difficult or even impossible to fully denounce such treatment as inhumane, degrading and illegal purely as a result of this government's very own record and our general complicity in far worse acts of torture and ill-treatment. We learned
earlier in the week of how MI5, having been rebuffed by Jamil el-Banna after attempting to recruit him to spy on Abu Qutada, then told the CIA that he and his business partner Bisher al-Rawi were carrying bomb parts. This resulted in them being swooped on in Gambia and then being rendered, first to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and then on to Guantanamo Bay. While al-Rawi has finally been freed after his help in keeping tabs on Abu Qutada for MI5 had come to light, el-Banna, despite being a British resident, is still being denied any help by the authorities here. Amnesty International additionally reported this week that if anything, conditions in Guantanamo are getting even worse. The sensory deprivation that is enforced both at Guantanamo Bay and other CIA-run black sites is designed to send the detainees mad, and in many cases it seems to have succeeded.

We have to remember that our own treatment of those arrested in Iraq has been at times less than exemplary, without even mentioning what our coalition partners get up to. For a time in the aftermath of the invasion, "conditioning", a practice banned by the army since the early 70s, was authorised as being acceptable. This involves the use of stress positions, forcing prisoners to stand with their arms outstretched and hands cuffed, as well as hooding and sleep deprivation. The most notable victim of this decision by the military hierarchy was Baha Mousa, who died after 36 hours in British custody in Basra. A post-mortem found that he had 93 separate injuries. The one person to admit to being involved in the abuse meted out to Mousa and those arrested at the same time, Corporal Payne, was accused of playing the detainees like a choir, kicking and punching them one after another, relishing their cries. Others were involved in the ill-treatment which led to his death, but a closing of ranks and an outbreak of amnesia has meant that everyone else has for now escaped justice.

The other open sore is our role in extraordinary rendition. Our elected representatives continue to either deny all knowledge or play down the fact that over 100 CIA flights landed at airports in the UK, whether to refuel or otherwise. Those unlucky enough to be on those planes, under the same sensory deprivation techniques used at Guantanamo so that they have no idea where they are or where they're being taken, would soon be welcomed either at CIA-run black site prison or by the security services in friendly (and sometimes unfriendly, as some have been rendered to Syria) countries who would then carry out torture, such as that performed on Benyam Mohammed, who had his penis slashed multiple times. He may well have been one of the lucky ones, as he doesn't seem to have undergone such other notorious methods as waterboarding.

This is why such predictably angry responses to yesterday's press conference, exemplified by Iain Dale, seem out of place. Our servicemen did indeed suffer, and they are now likely to be reimbursed for it as the MoD has lifted the ban on the selling of their stories. For those with British residence/leave to remain still languishing in Guantanamo Bay, there will be no such compensation.

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