Friday, February 26, 2010 

Paragraph 168 and all that.

It's been a week of non-denial denials, as well as some especially flagrant lies in the shape of Gordon Brown's curious failure to remember unleashing "the forces of hell" against his chancellor after he made the mistake of being too honest with an interviewer. Kindly, they've saved the best until last, with the trifecta of prime minister, home secretary and foreign secretary all uniting in defending those poor, unable to answer back protectors of the realm in the security services:

"We totally reject any suggestion that the security services have a systemic problem in respecting human rights. We wholly reject too that they have any interest in suppressing or withholding information from ministers or the courts."

"It is the nature of the work of the intelligence services that they cannot defend themselves against many of the allegations that have been made. But I can - and I have every confidence that their work does not undermine the principles and values that are the best guarantee of our future security."

It's instructive that all three of these statements, in response to the full disclosure of paragraph 168 of the "seven paragraphs" ruling, only talk in the present tense. Is anyone actually suggesting that the security services now have a systemic problem in respecting human rights? It's been clear that both MI5 and 6 have somewhat changed their ways as a result of the allegations made against them involving both complicity in torture and rendition, helped along by the fact that to a certain extent the CIA has also moderated its behaviour. Alan Johnson's second sentence is worded equally carefully - while Lord Neuberger suggests that David Miliband was misled by MI5 when he issued the public interest immunity certificates put before the court, the main allegation made by Neuberger is that MI5 lied to the Intelligence and Security Committee when they told it in March 2005 that "they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services' general ethics, methodology and training" while they also "denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government". The ISC contains no serving ministers, and no one has claimed that the security services have suppressed or withheld evidence from the courts.

Likewise, as asinine as Brown's claim is that the security services cannot defend themselves, somewhat contradicted by Jonathan Evans' moon-lighting as a Telegraph columnist, why shouldn't he have "every confidence" that their work doesn't undermine "the principles and values" that keep us safe? After all, the new guidelines under which MI5 and 6 are meant to work, which explicitly forbid any complicity in mistreatment have been in place now for some time, and there's been no indication as yet that they aren't being followed. We aren't talking about the here and now however, we're talking about what the security services did, which Brown, Miliband and Johnson strangely don't seem to want to discuss. It would be nice, for instance, for Miliband to comment on whether he was misled by MI5 as Neuberger suggests he was, something which he inexplicably declined to mention in an otherwise lengthy tête-a-tête with a BBC journalist.

The other defence of the security services, and with it the ISC, is that they weren't lying in 2005 when they told the committee the lines stated above as they didn't then apparently know about all the additional documents and information which were only found at a later date once the courts were involved. This is errant nonsense of the most obfuscatory kind. Two years later the ISC was told by Eliza Manningham-Buller (or Bullshitter, as only I call her), then head of MI5, that it was "regrettable that assurances regarding proper treatment of detainees were not sought from the Americans" in Binyam Mohamed's case, despite knowing full well, as the seven paragraphs show, that he was already being tortured before "Witness B" went to interview him. These documents were withheld for the very reason that they directly contradicted what MI5 had told and continued to tell the committee, right up until it was no longer legally possible to pretend otherwise. Miliband, Brown and Johnson are defending the indefensible, and they know it. The only question remains is whether ministers themselves were kept in the dark by the security services in a similar fashion until plausible deniability was no longer an option. The only way we'll find that out is through a judicial inquiry, something that both ministers and the security services will resist with every fibre of their being.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 11, 2010 

Scum-watch: Whose side are you on?

BenSix has already had a go at the esteemed Con Coughlin for his response to yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal concerning the seven paragraphs, but there's another contender for the prize title of "worst journalist in Britain" in the form of whoever wrote today's Sun leader column:

IN Afghanistan, our troops fight al-Qaeda. Here, the battle against the terrorists is undermined by judges.

Except they're not fighting al-Qaida, they're fighting the Taliban and various other insurgents, but who's being picky?

How, pray tell, is the battle against terrorists being undermined by judges? Yesterday's ruling should in practice affect absolutely nothing, as MI5 and MI6 are meant to have already changed their rules when it comes to handling British detainees held by other authorities. Or have they?

That is the ludicrous position we are in after yesterday's ruling over ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed claims America's CIA tortured him.

America shared information about Mohamed's interrogation with Britain on terms of strict secrecy.

As a refugee here, he used our courts to force details to be released.

The Sun has belittled Mohamed's account of his torture in the past, as well as said that it didn't want him back, along with other various degrees of heartlessness about his treatment. Unfortunately, considering that the American judge Gladys Kessler backed his account of how he was tortured and rendered (PDF), it now seems to be fact rather than anything approaching fiction. It's true that Mohamed is only a resident here rather than a citizen, but that should have no bearing on his access to the courts, especially when it was our security services that were actively involved in his detention. As for this idea of strict secrecy, or the "control principle", as David Miliband described it, when such information contains details which make clear that even residents of this country are being mistreated and that we are complicit in that mistreatment, it stops being need to know and starts becoming an issue of legality, of our international and indeed national obligations.

The liberal judges who backed him have damaged relations with our greatest ally.

If America now decides we cannot be trusted with security secrets, we will be at greater risk from al-Qaeda.

Yes, the statement from the White House that they were "deeply disappointed" with the ruling is bound to set our relations with "our greatest ally" back years. The Americans don't care a fig about this for the simple reason that they've already willingly released far worse information about what they did at the time; they're just for once prepared to go along with Miliband's attempts to block publication most likely as some obscure favour. Even if the Americans suddenly decided to stop sharing intelligence, which they won't, as we give them just as much as they give us, it's still pooled with other intelligence agencies which would. The idea that this will make us less safe, because we've finally found that our security services are liars and blackguards is absurd. If anything, it's likely to make us safer, not less.

The ruling is also a purely political gesture. Mohamed's claims have already been aired in the US.

A purely political gesture? If the Sun really believes that uncovering the true nature of what our security services have been involving themselves is just a "political gesture", then it's even more jaded and dismissive of any abuses of power than ever before. Mohamed's claims were aired in the US which is exactly why there was no "secrecy" and therefore they could be released, and why the arguments made the paper and the government are so bogus.

Our security services deserve support. The war on terror is not a game of lawn tennis.

Yes, they do, don't they? Because being complicit in torture isn't counter-productive at all, and doesn't undermine our values in the slightest. If only we could truly let rip against these jihadists, then maybe the war on terror really would become a game of lawn tennis. It's the liberals and the mad judges that are holding us back!

Whose side are you on, your Lordships?

You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 

The seven paragraphs.

Reading the seven paragraphs that have finally been released detailing the CIA's treatment of Binyam Mohamed after today's ruling by the Court of Appeal, it's initially difficult to know quite why the government was so determined that they should remain secret. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know: that the US was systematically mistreating almost anyone that came into their custody in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this was just the start of the torture regime which Binyam Mohamed found himself under; that the CIA, despite the claims of our security services, had been letting them know just what they were doing to individuals connected to this country; and that despite knowing full well that what the CIA was doing to Mohamed at this early stage would breach our obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as found during the 1970s when the "five techniques" were outlawed in Northern Ireland, they did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop his mistreatment.

Why then did they appeal, time and again until finally giving up at some point last week to stop these already widely known facts from entering into the public domain? The claims, repeated ad nauseam today that this was all about the "control" principle, that one country does not publish intelligence provided by another without its express permission is wholly unconvincing. Even if it does annoy the CIA and the US that more of their dirty secrets are being thoroughly examined and released by the courts of another country, it's nothing as to what they themselves have already admitted that they did and authorised, such as the Bybee memos and the waterboarding of the few top al-Qaida members whom they managed to capture. Indeed, the only reason why the Court of Appeal decided that seven paragraphs could today be published was that far more gruesome evidence of the torture which Mohamed underwent was released by a US court in a judgement in November of last year. Lord Neuberger quotes from it in his section of today's ruling (paragraph 126):

[Mr Mohamed's] trauma lasted for two long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.


At page 58, she said that "[t]he [US] Government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of [Mr Mohamed's] story of brutal treatment" and repeated that point at pages 62 and 64. On pages 61-2, she said that his "persistence in telling his story" and "very vigorous… and very public ... pursu[ance of] his claims in the British courts" indicated that his evidence was true and "demonstrates his willingness to test the truth of his version of events in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion". In the passage just quoted from page 70 of her Opinion, she referred to Mr Mohamed's "lengthy prior torture" as an established fact.

Compared to the seven paragraphs we have today, it doesn't really get much more damning.

Fortunately, the government, through its staggeringly inept attempts to stop even the slightest criticism of the security services from being made by those mad, unelected, unaccountable judges, has completely given the game away. Having seen the draft judgement, as is usual, the government's QC Jonathan Sumption was presumably ordered to complain about the withering remarks by Lord Neuberger in paragraph 168, which is distinctly unusual. Even more unusual is that Neuberger acquiesced, and withdrew his comments. Worth quoting in full is Sumption's objections:

The Master of the Rolls's observations, to whichever service they relate, are likely to receive more public attention than any other part of the judgments. They will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole ('it appears likely that there were others'); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Neuberger, whether through acute analysis or just searing condemnation, got far too close to the reality of how the security services were acting post-9/11. From repeated accounts of MI5 and 6 officers visiting those held in by either the CIA or the Pakistanis, we already knew that despite being told of how they were being mistreated nothing was done, and that even on some occasions there was total complicity, with questions from the UK authorities being asked while the detainees were undergoing stress techniques and worse. They clearly, as Neuberger identified, had no problem with operating within a culture where human rights were not respected. Most pointedly, he also noted that the security services had deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee. "Deliberately misled" is mild; they lied and lied and lied, all the way up to the very top.

That is though what the security services do for a living - they lie to people, they mislead and they abuse. For a judge to say that the Intelligence and Security Committee is useless, which is what he was more than implying, is far too damaging. For one to imply that the assurances given by MI5 to politicians are worthless, because of their "culture of suppression", is even worse. As Ian Cobain notes in his annotations on the letter sent by Sumption, the courts are in danger of dismissing the reassurances of politicians based on information from MI5 because of its continued pattern of deception. If they'll lie to the politicians that represent them, then it therefore follows that they'll lie to everyone. They therefore then have to be made accountable to someone, and that someone would likely have to be a fully independent, judicial committee, not a parliamentary select committee packed with ex-ministers.

Despite then already being fully aware that the information in the seven paragraphs was already well known, the real reason for wanting them to remain secret was because they show just how out of control our supposedly fully accountable and enlightened defenders of British security actually were and indeed remain. They show that they'll lie not just to the public, but to politicians as well. And despite knowing this, those self-same politicians are far more interested in protecting their own hides than in shining a light on the agencies that colluded in the torture of both British citizens and residents. The sad thing is that they succeeded on the principle, but not on this particularly case, thanks to the same United States which supported the government's attempt to stop the paragraphs being published. That must hurt, but not as much as a fully damning judgement with an unexpurgated paragraph 168 would have done.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, November 20, 2009 

The war against evidence of torture continues.

How then goes our glorious government's consistent attempts to stop any primary evidence emerging of our collusion in, if not open acceptance of the use of torture when it came to interrogating suspects caught up in TWAT (the war against terror)?

This week brought rulings to please both sides. Yesterday, for the sixth straight time in a row, the high court rejected the claims of the Foreign Office that to reveal seven paragraphs of a CIA memo sent to MI5 and MI6, a memo which almost certainly details the "treatment" which Binyam Mohamed was being subjected to whilst detained in Pakistan, would damage national security and could potentially stop the CIA sharing information with us. This is, as the judges have repeatedly argued, preposterous. According to them, the memo contains no actual secret intelligence, instead rather a summary sent to the intelligence services on Mohamed. What the memo almost certainly does contain though is prima facie evidence that MI5 and MI6 knew years before they previously claimed that the US was either conniving in or actively mistreating prisoners indirectly under their care or supervision.

In the latest ruling, the judges make clear that one of the paragraphs makes reference to the infamous Bybee memo, released by the Obama administration earlier in the year. The Bybee memo details exactly how Abu Zubaydah, then the most senior al-Qaida operative in US custody, could be tortured, supposedly without breaching the prohibition against torture in the United States code. In a section which remains redacted, there is apparently a verbatim quote from the memo: apparently we can't see what the Americans have already released to the world. To infer, it looks as if the memo is justifying, or explaining to the intelligence services in this country, that Mohamed will be or has been treated in a similar fashion, and that because Bybee OKed it, there's nothing to worry about on the legality front.

The real reason then why the government is so determined to keep this memo secret is that it contradicts everything they have maintained over the alleged intelligence service collusion with torture. Not just the government story, but also the story which the intelligence services themselves have continuously thrust down our throats. They told the intelligence and security committee that they only joined together the dots on what the CIA was doing when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, claiming that despite knowing about the rendition programme, there was "no automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment". To call this laughable would be putting it too lightly; that the ISC believed this most blatant of lies, this lack of intellectual curiosity and complete failure to put two and two together is why it ought to be disbanded and a watchdog with real power to monitor the security services immediately set-up in its place.

While however the government will yet again appeal against the high court ruling, they must have been utterly delighted with the one made in the same parish by Mr Justice Silber. On Wednesday he ruled that MI5, MI6 and the police can potentially withhold evidence from defendants and their lawyers in any civil case, if it is determined to be "secret government information" which they seek. As the Binyam Mohamed memo case shows, what can be determined to be "secret government information" is remarkably elastic. Not that MI5, MI6 or the government could decide personally what is secret or isn't, oh no. Instead "special advocates", presumably the same that act for those being held on control orders and who can't be specifically told on what information their movement and rights are being restricted will decide. As Louise Christian complained afterwards, the judge's ruling effectively allows "government to rely on secret evidence in the ordinary civil courts ... a constitutional outrage".

As one window opens slightly, another is slammed shut. Not that is just us and the Americans who have disgraced ourselves: even the Canadians are finding that "the good war" means handing over captives to the Afghan intelligence services, and with it almost certainly into their torture dungeons. Interesting is the way that the Canadians are attacking Richard Colvin's credibility, just as the government has repeatedly done the same against the whistleblowers here. The taint on all of us is going to take an awfully long time to lift.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, August 10, 2009 

Protesting too much about collusion.

One of the more cutting criticisms made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week was that while the head of MI5 had no problems in talking to the media, he seemed to regard it as an unacceptable chore to have to appear in front of a few jumped-up parliamentarians. Yesterday the head of MI6, "Sir" John Scarlett appeared on a Radio 4 documentary into the Secret Intelligence Service, where he naturally denied that MI6 had ever so much as hurt a hair on anyone's head, or more or less the equivalent, as Spy Blog sets out.

This would of course be the same MI6 that passed on information to the CIA regarding Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna which resulted in their arrest in Gambia and subsequent rendition to Guantanamo Bay, and indeed the same MI6 which along with MI5 interviewed Binyam Mohamed while he was being detained in Pakistan, where we now know he was being tortured. The Intelligence and Security Committee noted even in their whitewash report into rendition that MI6 had likely given information to the Americans which was subsequently used in his mistreatment whilst in Morocco. We've since learned that "Witness B", an MI5 officer, also visited Morocco on a couple of occasions while Mohamed was being held there, even further heightening suspicions of direct collusion in his torture.

Those two others who declined to appear before the JCHR were David Miliband and Alan Johnson, who also seem to prefer talking to the media than having to face the chore of sitting before a committee with something approaching independence. Their article in the Sunday Telegraph, responding to the report's claims was one of those wonderful pieces of writing which condemns everything, states the obvious whilst not contradicting any of the specific allegations of collusion. It's the lady protesting too much: no one said, as they do, that the security and intelligence services operate without control and oversight; indeed, it's been quite clear that ministers have known from the very beginning just what the intelligence services have been getting up to, they've just denied and denied and denied it until finally forced to admit to specific allegations, like that two men were rendered through Diego Garcia despite previously repeatedly denying it. They've in fact just admitted that they are personally accountable for what MI5 and MI6 officers get up, so we'll know who should be prosecuted should collusion be revealed, and it's difficult to believe that at some point it won't be.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, August 04, 2009 

Torture? Look at this fucking great fish!

You perhaps would have thought, what with it being the silly season and all, that a hard news story such as the most authoritative so far inquiry into British state complicity with torture post 9/11 might have made a few waves. Fat chance. The only thing making waves, or rather no longer making them, is a dead fish. Front page of the Graun, pretty much a given, considering the paper's own contribution to the inquiry by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PDF), was the best it could manage.

Admittedly, it might be because it doesn't tell those of us who have been following the long and winding road from complicity in rendition with the Americans to complicity in torture in Pakistan much that we don't already know. It also doesn't specifically say that we have been complicit: such investigation was outside its remit, and besides, both David Miliband and the home secretary declined to give evidence to the committee, as did Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5. Andrew Dismore, trying to shame the MI5 director into meeting his committee even pointed out to Evans that back in January he gave an interview to a select band of hacks. If he can give an insight into the current workings of the security service to the hoi polloi in Fleet Street, surely he can spare a few minutes to say something to parliamentarians? Alas, no. Evans it seems is only answerable to the toothless Intelligence and Security Committee, where his evidence can be conveniently censored and redacted, and considering their report into rendition, which was a complete whitewash, it's no surprise why the service favours them.

Thankfully, the committee's conclusions pull few punches. Complicity in torture would be a direct breach of our international human rights obligations; despite the need for co-operation between foreign intelligence agencies, there must be mechanisms for ensuring accountability; ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, and the fact they can do so confirms the system for ministerial accountability for security and intelligence matters is woefully deficient; the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee must be debated to ensure it is subject to frequent scrutiny and that it should be established as a proper parliamentary committee, with an independent secretariat; the government should immediately publish all versions of the guidance given to intelligence officers in relation to the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas; the government should follow the Obama administration and publish all relevant legal opinions provided to ministers; and lastly, the only way to restore confidence in the intelligence services is an independent inquiry into the numerous allegations of complicity in torture, which should make recommendations about improving the accountability of the security services as well as removing any scope for impunity.

Some coverage of these conclusions might well have helped towards that inquiry, one which this government at least is certain not to hold; it's doubtful also that Cameron, especially with the neo-conservatives among his front bench, is likely to piss off the security services as soon as he ascends to power. What it comes down to is that no one really cares: some of those making the allegations are after all convicted terrorists; oh, and probably the fact that all of them have brown or darker skin helps too. We will though remain in judgement of Guantanamo Bay and the explicit involvement of the CIA in torture, even when we ourselves are just as up to our necks in it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 

Her Majesty's Willing Torturers.

Since the allegations first emerged that this country had been complicit in the rendition and torture of those picked up in the so-called war on terror, we've almost never had a complete picture of what happened when, why and how. The closest we've came to was the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, associates of Abu Qatada who were visited prior to leaving the country to travel to Gambia by MI5, and where they were picked up by the CIA and taken to Guantanamo Bay. It later transpired that Bisher al-Rawi had in fact been providing the police and intelligence services with information on Qatada; once Qatada himself was in custody, it seems al-Rawi was disposed of.

Thanks to David Davis, we now have the fullest account of just how complicit both the police and the security services have been in such practices, almost outsourcing torture in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed. Using parliamentary privilege to get round reporting restrictions and the secrecy which the government has easily imposed on the trials of the men alleging that they were tortured, he detailed how despite knowing that Ahmed intended to travel first to Dubai and then onto Pakistan, they let him leave the country. This was a man who they knew was almost certainly a terrorist, and whom they had evidence on which later convicted him as one, yet they let him go to what has since been called the "crucible of world terrorism". There was a method to their madness though: they suggested once he had arrived that Pakistan's inter-services intelligence arrest him. That was their exact message: they "suggested" that the ISI might be interested in him.

The ISI was happy to oblige. Once they had arrested Ahmed, both Greater Manchester Police and MI5 supplied the ISI with questions to which the ISI was more than willing to provide answers. Ahmed's torture, compared to perhaps that which Binyam Mohamed underwent, was mild by comparison. He had just the three fingernails removed, which an independent pathologist confirmed were removed whilst he was in the custody of the ISI, was beaten with wooden staves the size of cricket stumps, and whipped with a 3ft length of tyre rubber. He was, like the others who allege they were tortured, visited by officers from both MI5 and MI6, except this time, after telling them he was being tortured, they didn't return. The policy it seems, after the first allegations were made that intelligence officers had visited those who had been tortured, was that officers would not return if they were explicitly told by the person they were questioning that they were being tortured.

After 13 months in Pakistani custody, Ahmed was deported back to the UK and was convicted last December of being a member of al-Qaida and of "directing terrorism". The attempts by his legal team to have the case thrown out on the basis of the complicity of the police and the intelligence services in his torture failed, having been held in secret. His conviction does not diminish the fact that we felt the need for this man to be tortured, despite the fact he could have been arrested before he left the country, where it was quite possible he could have disappeared. His conviction also appears to have purely been down to the information acquired whilst he was in this country; his torture it seems added absolutely nothing. It seems instead to have been almost vindictive, plotted by MI5 and the police, presumably safe in the knowledge that the government wouldn't allow what they were doing to leak out. Unfortunately for them, it has.

David Davis in his statement to the Commons pointed out that the United States has somewhat attempted to wipe the slate clean when it came to their complicity and use of torture against various "terrorist suspects", even if no one responsible for putting the policy into action has been brought to justice. Instead here we still have ministers and ex-ministers completely denying that they would ever condone torture, when they quite clearly must have known what was going on, and if they didn't, they should never have been in the job in the first place and it would suggest that we have intelligence services that are completely unaccountable even to those ostensibly in charge of them. Quite obviously, there needs to be, as Davis called for, a full judicial inquiry into all the alleged cases of rendition and torture that have come to light down the years. It is also equally clear that like the Bush administration, the current government will never admit willingly that it has colluded and indulged in such medieval practices. That might just be the best possible reason that the current lot, Her Majesty's Willing Torturers, if you will, should be kicked out at the first possible opportunity.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, June 18, 2009 

Collusion, lying and willing torturers.

Craig Murray quite reasonably wonders whether he's been airbrushed out of history, as the Guardian keeps up its rather belated "exclusives" concerning who knew what and when over the mistreatment of British detainees and our corresponding collusion in torture. I'm more concerned though with how this yet again shows just how useless the Intelligence and Security Committee is. In their report on rendition a couple of years back, which was, it goes without saying, a complete and utter whitewash, they believed the claims of MI6 that they knew absolutely nothing about anyone being mistreated anywhere until the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged:

150. It was only when news surfaced of the mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004 that the UK Government realised that there were real risks of CIDT:
Back in 2003 we were concerned about secret facilities but we did not at that stage, I think, make an automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment. That sort of connection grew later as more allegations came to light or… things like Abu Ghraib came to light, which led you to believe, just a minute, if that is happening there, what might be happening in secret facilities.

This itself was unbelievable: what was the point of "secret" facilities except to subject those held there to the sort of treatment which would eventually severely embarrass both the United States and this country? The idea itself that MI6 couldn't or didn't know what was going on was even more ridiculous: what is the point of intelligence gathering organisations if they can't even work out what our allies are up to?

We know now for certain however that MI6 knew full well what was going on as soon as they started being allowed access to prisoners with UK connections, as could have been expected. In January 2002, after an MI6 officer realised that someone in US custody was being mistreated, they sent out official advice which while telling their agents that they could not be seen to condone torture, they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent it, something which directly breaches the obligation not to be complicit in that mistreatment.

MI6 can't be blamed for lying; that is after all what they are trained to do from the moment they join the service and is to be expected. Our politicians can however be blamed, for both knowing full well what was happening despite their denials and for publishing those denials as if they were true. There is only one way to get to the bottom of the abuses which have happened under the rendition programmes and the mistreatment in the name of the war on terror, and that is through a fully independent judicial inquiry. At the same time, the ISC needs to be abolished and a fully independent watchdog of the security services needs to be established, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission as the model, modified as necessary. Liars may then not be able to prosper after all.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, March 26, 2009 

A police investigation, but how far will it go?

It's difficult to know whether to be surprised at the decision of the Attorney General to refer to the Metropolitan police her concerns that MI5 may have broken the law through its alleged complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, or surprised but at the same time cynical. The manoeuvres last week by the government, announcing that they would publish the guidelines MI5 and 6 would follow when interviewing suspects abroad, that the Intelligence and Security Committee would reinvestigate Mohamed's treatment, and that there would be a new agreement with the Pakistani authorities concerning their treatment of British detainees seemed to be an attempt to bring the embarrassment involving Mohamed's allegations to an abrupt end. Hopes were not raised by the length of time that Baroness Scotland was taking to look into the claims, which themselves arose after the evidence heard in a secret session of the court case involving Mohamed's lawyers' attempts to gain access to documents detailing his detention was felt to be so serious that the "possible criminal wrongdoing" demanded further investigation. Undoubtedly both the government and MI5 would have hoped to have avoided an investigation of any sort; that Scotland has decided that there is a possible case to answer is deserving of praise, especially considering her predecessor's considerable lack of independence from the government.

It will however be prudent to be concerned about just how wide the investigation will be and whether it will get anywhere. At the moment it looks like it may just be investigating the behaviour of "Witness B", the MI5 officer who drew the short straw and was the person who interviewed Mohamed while he was being held in Pakistan, where he was already suffering ill-treatment but was yet to be subjected to the "medieval" torture that he almost certainly suffered in Morocco. It's apparent from other cases that "Witness B" was not the only person to show a worrying lack of concern for detainees' well-being while in Pakistani custody, and the spectre of him being made a scapegoat and left hung out to dry is potentially worse than there being no investigation at all. As the Guardian has established, Mohamed's interrogation by "Witness B" was almost certainly the result of an official policy which had been drawn up by government ministers in conjunction with the security services. This agreement essentially took the "three monkeys" approach: they did nothing that would directly associate them with the ill-treatment that is endemic in Pakistani custody, while also doing nothing to stop it from happening. This was further compounded by how despite claiming to not know where Mohamed had been taken, they supplied information to the Americans which was subsequently used during the "interrogation" sessions in Morocco.

In other words, this potentially goes all the way to the very top. As has been pointed out, the current head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, was in charge of international counter-terrorism at the time. It hardly seems realistic that Knacker of the Yard is going to burst into Thames House and ask Evans to come along quietly, just as it seems doubtful that the spooks will be letting anything incriminating slip into their statements to the police. They can, after all, just like normal suspects, completely refuse to co-operate with the police's inquiries. This is one of the major reasons why there should be an independent judicial review, where evidence, not necessarily in public, would have to be given under oath. Doubtless also the likes of the Sun, which has been shameless in their disbelief concerning Mohamed's treatment, will be squealing tomorrow about how it will be distracting MI5 from their vital work of keeping us safe from those whom would, uh, not think twice about instigating similar methods.

This though is not just about Mohamed, but about how we suddenly decided that complicity with torture, not just of others but our own citizens and residents was acceptable despite knowing full well that torture makes for hopeless "intelligence". Those responsible should be at the least brought to account and made to explain themselves; criminal charges may well be sought, but again they seem unlikely to stick, just as very little concerning the war on terror has stuck to this government. The hope has to be again that today's announced investigation will shed even more light on one of the most shaming events in our recent history.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, March 20, 2009 

It's not enough.

As it has done repeatedly in the past, the government has done the absolute minimum possible in an attempt to put to an end the increasing embarrassment caused by the continuing allegations of our active collusion in torture. We perhaps ought to be glad that the puny sops of publishing the guidance which the intelligence services have when it comes interrogating suspects, the reinvestigation of the treatment suffered by Binyam Mohamed by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the promise of a new agreement with Pakistan concerning the arrest of British citizens have been offered at all; Diane Abbott seemed to sum up this government's attitude towards torture when she described ministers rolling their eyes and whispering about it "all being a Daily Mail campaign" when David Cameron unexpectedly brought the subject up at last week's prime minister's questions. These are former members of the likes of Liberty, some of them apparently still members of Amnesty International, dismissing the most brutal torture of innocent individuals as a tabloid campaign which they can just ignore, sigh and complain in private about. It might not win them many votes at the next election, pretending to care about "terrorist suspects" having their fingernails extracted with pliers or their penises repeatedly slashed with razors, but the general attitude towards such allegations still comes across as shockingly apathetic, even callous.

It's very good news therefore that Craig Murray will be called before the joint committee on human rights' parallel investigation into rendition and torture, his first opportunity to put his personal experience of information obtained via torture being used by the UK authorities before parliament. While the JCHR has been ignored repeatedly in the past, whether by MI5 chiefs or more recently by David Miliband and Jacqui Smith, it will at the least put into the open far more forcefully what has already been known but rarely highlighted for years. The same cannot be said for the Intelligence and Security Committee, a more discredited body it's difficult to think of. Its reports are unintentionally hilarious, when they are not absolutely scandalous, thanks to the ridiculous censorship imposed upon them, such as in these recent examples:

Whilst the primary focus is necessarily on international counter-terrorism (ICT) work, the UK's intelligence and security agencies also dedicate resources towards countering the challenges posed by ***, ***, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional instability in *** and the ***, and other challenges."

• "Top priority" in the UK's requirements for secret intelligence last year was given to seven areas:

• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***; and
• ***."

And I hate to keep banging on about it, but it was also the ISC in its investigation into extraordinary rendition which decided that their definition of ER was different to everyone else's, thereby helpfully managing to clear the security services of collusion with ER in the case of Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi.

As Ian Cobain points out, it used to be claimed that MI5's 11th commandment was "thou shalt not get caught". Now that they almost certainly have been caught, the only way to fully understand what went wrong, how far the policy went and why we actively connived with the torture of our citizens and residents is for there to be a full judicial inquiry. There have been far too many lies told for anything less to be acceptable, and hopefully the admittance at last that there may have been a problem will inexorably lead towards one being granted.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, March 04, 2009 

Time to support Craig Murray. Again.

It seems an almost yearly occurrence to be making an appeal for or calling for support for Craig Murray, but this one is even more than vital than usual. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is investigating our involvement in extraordinary rendition and apparent complicity in torture, has yet to reach a decision on whether Murray should be called to give evidence. To suggest that he is the exact person they ought to be taking such information from is an understatement: he lost his job as a direct result of opposing the Foreign Office policy on accepting intelligence which was the product of torture, as long as we ourselves were not personally involved in it. Both David Miliband and Jacqui Smith have already refused to appear before the committee, similarly to how "Dame" Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, also previously refused to give evidence to the committee. Craig says that the government is furiously lobbying against his giving evidence, presumably for the reason that he has compelling evidence that shows undeniably that we were ultimately complicit in the torture of those picked up by likes of the Uzbek intelligence services.

Craig suggests that you email and urge them to allow him to give evidence. Although doubtless the full truth will not even begin to come out until a judicial independent inquiry is set-up, as has even been called for by the government's terrorism legislation reviewer Lord Carlile, the investigations by the JCHR and the Foreign Affairs select committee, which is also looking into the allegations of complicity, especially in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, not to mention the recent revelations concerning the handing over of prisoners in Iraq to the Americans who subsequently rendered them to Afghanistan, or the alleged use of Diego Garcia as a "black site". Craig has tried to expose the reality of our involvement in inhuman and degrading treatment; he was treated to smears and vilification from this government's finest as a result. We can't let them do it again.

Quoting Craig:

I wish to offer myself as a witness before the Joint Commission on Human Rights on the subject of the UK government's policy on intelligence cooperation with torture abroad.

I appeared as a witness in person before both the European Parliament and European Council's enquiries into extraordinary rendition. My evidence was described by the European Council's Rapporteur, Senator Dick Marty, as "Compelling and valuable".

The key points I wish to make are these:

- I was British Ambassador in Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004.
- I learned and confirmed that I was regularly seeing intelligence from detainees in the Uzbek torture chambers, sent me by the CIA via MI6.
- British Ministers and officials were seeing the same torture material.
- In October/November 2002 and January/Februray 2003 I sent two Top Secret telegrams to London specifically on the subject of our receipt of intelligence gained under torture. I argued this was illegal, immoral and impractical. The telegrams were speciifically marked for the Secretary of State.
- I was formally summoned back to the FCO for a meeting held on 7 or 8 March 2003 specifically and solely on the subject of intelligence gained under torture. Present were Linda Duffield, Director Wider Europe, FCO, Sir Michael Wood, Chief Legal Adviser, FCO, and Matthew Kydd, Head of Permanent Under-Secretary's Department, FCO.
- This meeting was minuted. I have seen the record, which is classified Top Secret and was sent to Jack Straw. On the top copy are extensive hand-written marginalia giving Jack Straw's views.
- I was told at this meeting 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 Richard Dearlove. I was told that we could not exclude receipt of specific material from the CIA without driving a coach and horses through the universality principle of the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement, which would be detrimental to UK interests.
- Sir Michael Wood's legal advice that it was not illegal to receive intelligence got by torture was sent on to me in Tashkent (copy attached). On 22 July 2004

I sent one further telegram on intelligence got by torture, with a lower classification, following FCO communications on the subject. Copy attached.
It was my final communication before being dismissed as Ambassador.

In conclusion, I can testify that beyond any doubt the British government has for at least six years a considered but secret policy of cooperation with torture abroad. This policy legally cleared by government legal advisers and approved by Jack Straw as Secretary of State.

Craig Murray
2 March 2009

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Friday, February 27, 2009 

Rendition flashback.

Thanks must go to Mr Eugenides for reminding me of a post from 3 years ago which directly accused Jack Straw of lying:

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.

This was part of his evidence to the Foreign Affairs committee on the 13th of December 2005, six days after a memo had been circulated, subsequently leaked to the New Statesman, that suggested "moving the debate" on about our involvement with rendition. Since then, it's subsequently turned out that we've been fully complicit in both rendition and torture, but it's well worth reminding yourself of just what a bunch of lying cunts some of our leading politicians are.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 26, 2009 

The rabbit hole deepens.

In the last post on our involvement with extraordinary rendition, I asked just how far this rabbit hole went. It turns out that it goes even deeper with each passing week: the defence secretary John Hutton has now had to admit to parliament that fighters detained in Iraq had been handed to the Americans, who subsequently "rendered" them to Afghanistan, presumably to the notorious Bagram airbase.

Again, this isn't any real genuine surprise. Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, who was discharged from the army after he refused to return to Iraq, was gagged by court order from revealing just how deep the policy went of turning over prisoners to the Americans, who subsequently sent them to prisons and detention facilities where torture was endemic. He was to claim that "hundreds" had been handed over in this way; Hutton for now, despite apparently referring to Griffin, is only admitting to these two instances, allegedly involving fighters associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani/Kashmiri group accused of being behind the attacks in Mumbai in November last year.

We ought to be clear: despite the claims that they were only sent to Afghanistan because there were no Pashtu speakers in Iraq to interrogate them, there have been few that have been transferred to Bagram for any other reason than to become acquainted with the "extended questioning regime" practiced there. That the men have not been released and are now entering their fifth year of detention, presumably without any charge or trial or much chance of either, is another detail that was conveninently overlooked.

As the human rights groups are now arguing, the only way to clear this up once and for all is for there to be a independent judicial inquiry, investigating all our alleged links to rendition and illegal treatment of detainees since the beginning of the "war on terror". Investigations by the Intelligence and Security Committee are no longer credible, as their perverse clearing of MI6 of involvement in extraordinary rendition in the case of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna showed. One thing is for sure, and that's there is a lot still to come out. This rabbit hole may well turn out to bottomless.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 

How low can we go?

It's quite quickly becoming apparent why the government has been so desperate to prevent the full details coming out regarding the torture of Binyam Mohamed, with it attempting to pass the buck onto the United States, claiming that to release the documents would threaten our intelligence links with that country - the truth now appears to be that we have been directly complicit in the torture of British citizens in Pakistan since after 9/11.

Allegations really don't come much more serious than those being made in today's Guardian, based on the testimony of an MI5 officer during the court case concerning the release of the documents last year. In what appears to amount to a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" approach, MI5 officers questioned detainees that had been at the least ruffed up and at the worst tortured without expressing any concern for their well-being or bothering with such slight concerns as whether their detention itself was legal. This doesn't seem to have been an ad hoc approach, but rather one which was actively discussed and decided upon by security service lawyers and Whitehall officials. Moreover, in Mohamed's case it appears that MI5 actively cooperated with his rendition to Morocco, or at least knew it was going to happen, where he was brutally tortured, something which it has always denied, although it has previously admitted to giving information to the Americians which was subsequently used during his torture. To top all of this off, David Miliband actively solicited a letter from the US state department which confirmed his claim made to the judges in the case that if the documents were released, the US would stop intelligence cooperation. Miliband then in parliament directly contradicted himself, claiming that the US authorities had done nothing of the sort, which has itself prompted the case to be re-examined.

We did already know that our own intelligence services had been involved in the US programme of "extraordinary rendition", when the CIA helpfully temporarily disposed of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, former associates of Abu Qutada, who were arrested and taken to Guantanamo after they left the UK for Gambia. We knew from Craig Murray that our government had no qualms whatsoever about using "intelligence" which had its source in the torture of opposition figures in Uzbekistan, and that the same practice was doubtless in place across the globe. These latest revelations though go beyond all that, into direct complicity with the active torture of British subjects and citizens in a third country, with MI5 and the government directly collaborating and discussing how such information should be used and whether it was legal or not. It's little wonder then just how far the government has gone in trying to stop these allegations from coming out: they are the kind which ought to result in instant sackings and resignations, in investigations and inquiries into how and why we decided that torture was fine as long a third party was doing it and those being abused were thought to be involved in terrorist activities. They are due to be investigated by both the parliamentary committee on human rights and the toothless and spineless intelligence and security committee, but neither is likely to get fully to the bottom of what seems to have gone on, and the latter especially has already been involved in a despicable whitewash of our role in rendition.

All this has come at the same time as an interview with the former MI5 head Stella Rimington, in which she warned that the government was directly exploiting and manipulating the terrorist threat in order to restrict civil liberties, a definitive report from the International Committee of Jurists, which investigates how post-9/11 human rights have been abused and sacrified in the name of security and finding terror, as well as making recommendations on how to recover from the current low ebb, and as the government seems to be determined to paint not just Muslims, but anyone with even slightly radical or controversial opinions as potential extremists, not to mention the retrial of the liquid bomb suspects. Anything Rimington says should be treated with caution, not just as an ex-spook but also because she was personally involved in the surveillance and infiltrating of any vaguely radical group during the 1980s, something which was never even close to being justified when most posed about as much threat to the British state as Timmy Mallett, but when a former agent denounces the way civil liberties are being abused, many do pay attention. Likewise, the ICJ report ruthlessly exposes just how low we have sunk in such a short space of time, while the government's latest "counter-terrorism strategy" illustrates vividly New Labour's apparent addiction to demonising those opposed to its own moral and political values rather than engaging and challenging them.

As the Heresiarch argues, we shouldn't kid ourselves that it's only in times of tension that governments and other state organisations try to exert their powers to the limit; it's what they do naturally. It's therefore ludicrous to imagine that an opposition party, however pure their values might be while out of power, would not do much the same once in it in order both to satisfy the traditional demands of the authoritarians and reactionaries in the press and to stay in government itself. It is however equally difficult to believe that the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats could possibly be any worse than Labour has been. How far, after all, does this rabbit hole go? We've had illegal war, complicity in torture and the suspension of habeas corpus. The only thing left for them to do seems to be to go in for targeted assassinations. After all, we've got to get on a level playing field with the Israelis somehow.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 04, 2009 

New Labour's moral cowardice and collusion with torture.

With the demise of the Bush administration, some of us were dearly hoping that not just would there be distinct policy changes, but that those who know where the bodies are buried would be quickly into the offices of investigative hacks across the world to lay bear just how deeply involved at the highest levels the Americans were with their client torture regimes. It could yet be the case that instead of going to the likes of Seymour Hersh, they've decided to write books, or that the exposes could be yet to come, but for now it looks as if loyalty is still winning out.

Such loyalty also still seems to be in evidence in our own dead men walking. Yesterday's nauseating press conference between David Miliband and Hillary Clinton, full of deeply unconvincing talk of just how special the special relationship is, if indeed you can consider abusive relationships where one partner is completely domineering over the other to be in any way special, was instructive of just how little the substance has changed. Yes, Obama's signed the papers to close Guantanamo within a year, and the CIA's system of black sites used to additionally hold "terrorist suspects" has gone the same way, but the last thing the administration is interested in doing is actually opening up the books and coming completely clean about how the Bush administration operated and how quickly the Americans went from decrying torture to actively practicing it and colluding even more directly with allies that do the same.

It is however difficult to know for certain whether David Miliband is telling the truth when he claimed to Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones that if he released documents detailing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident detained at Guantanamo, that the US would in response be forced to withhold intelligence from our own security services. The BBC is reporting that Miliband is claiming there were no threats - just that the confidentiality of the documents meant they could not be released. While doubtless the US would be extremely peeved to say the least about information being released that would confirm they colluded in the torture of Mohamed while he was in Morocco, this still seems unlikely to genuinely stop intelligence sharing: it is after all a two-way street, and besides, such intelligence is pooled between all the major security agencies. Information would continue to go to the French and Germans for instance, who could then still pass it on to us if they were so inclined. This was why the Saudi threat over the BAE corruption inquiry was so unconvincing: even if they stopped sharing intelligence data with us, the Americans would have passed it on.

The comparison with the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Saudi-BAE slush fund is apposite because of what it tells us about the completely craven nature of our government while at the same time being wholly convenient because it means they can do what they also wanted to do regardless. In both cases, we were and are effectively being blackmailed; Prince Bandar even seemed to be directly threatening us with a terrorist attack if the inquiry into his alleged corrupt behaviour was not stopped. Likewise, the supposed American threat to stop intelligence cooperation means that we don't have to expose our own security services, who have long hilariously claimed to be whiter than white, as the true charlatans and collaborators in torture that they are. It's not even as if we don't already know that we rely on intelligence from foreign countries where torture and worse is routinely used: Craig Murray after all was forced out as ambassador to Uzbekistan after he demanded that MI6 stop using "intelligence" which was the fruit of torture of regime opponents.

Furthermore, the Intelligence and Security Committee has already noted that information which MI6 supplied to the Americans on Binyam Mohamed was almost certainly used in his torture in Morocco. In the usual understated, insulting style with which the ISC deals with such outrages, this was "with hindsight, ... regrettable". The ISC has always been utterly useless, far too weak to even begin to hold the security services to account, but their complete wide-eyed believing that MI5 and MI6 themselves didn't know that the US had been mistreating prisoners until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke was beyond a joke. That the government is suggesting that they should investigate again is the biggest cop-out imaginable, and needs to be vigorously resisted.

For while ostensibly today's ruling was about the United States' involvement in rendition and abuse of prisoners, it was also about our own unhappy role in it. We know full well that other former prisoners at Guantanamo ended up there because of how our own security services acted, just as we know that MI5 and 6 were involved with Binyam Mohamed during his detention in Pakistan, and as is alleged, with others detained in Pakistan who were tortured by the ISI. We're meant to believe that such meetings were social visits, where agents of our security assets were only concerned with how they were being treated, not with further interrogation or to see whether they had been broken by their jailers. While America undoubtedly has the most questions to answer about its tactics in the war on terror, we too have been complicit in the abuses and still refuse to even countenace the release of the slightest insight into just how deep the collusion went, even when a man's future might well be at stake. We might yet have to wait for the fall of New Labour before the Obama adminstration becomes confident enough to air the previous incumbent's dirty linen in public.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, January 22, 2009 

An end to torture porn?

The inauguration ceremony was terrible, but no one can honestly say that Obama hasn't lived up to his promises so far:

Barack Obama embarked on the wholesale deconstruction of George Bush's war on terror, shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition, and calling for a new set of rules for detainees. The repudiation of Bush's thinking on national security yesterday also saw the appointment of a high-powered envoy to the Middle East.

Of interest here is that we were explicitly told by Bush and co that the "black sites" had already been shut down. This was always dubious because some of the prisoners that were known to have been captured by the Americans, or captured by others and rendered into their care had simply disappeared. Unless they were tortured so badly that they died or committed suicide, they must presumably still be out there somewhere.

The thing that's so invigorating about Obama's initial moves is because it's all been so effortless: just a simple issuing of decrees and the abuses of the Bush adminstration have been washed away, almost as if they never existed. That's part of the problem: however much praise Obama and his team deserve for moving so swiftly to end his predecessor's crimes, we still shouldn't forget that this nation which supposedly didn't and would never torture did so with such ease and with so little soul-searching. Our abiding image of it though isn't those who adminstered the worst of it, or those who authorised it, but instead most probably Lynndie England, cigarette in mouth, pointing at the limp dicks of her captives. How fitting that those who thought they were the cocks of the walk have had their little empire brought down to size so swiftly.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates