Is it just me or have David Miliband and Alan Johnson just put their hands up to Britain’s colluding in the torture of Binyam Mohamed and others?
When detainees are held by our police or Armed Forces we can be sure how they are treated. By definition, we cannot have that same level of assurance when they are held by foreign governments, whose obligations may differ from our own.
Yet intelligence from overseas is critical to our success in stopping terrorism. All the most serious plots and attacks in the UK in this decade have had significant links abroad. Our agencies must work with their equivalents overseas. So we have to work hard to ensure that we do not collude in torture or mistreatment.
Whether passing information which might lead to suspects being detained; passing questions to be put to detainees; or directly interviewing them, our agencies are required to seek to minimise, and where possible avoid, the risk of mistreatment. Enormous effort goes into assessing the risks in each case. Operations have been halted where the risk of mistreatment was too high. But it is not possible to eradicate all risk. Judgments need to be made.
Sorry? Has the world gone completely upside down? It’s impossible to eradicate all risk of British agents and departments colluding in torture? So it’s not possible to stop picking suspects up and sending them to be ‘interrogated’ for us in countries which are known to torture? This is a government whose operations are guided by human rights legislation and obligations – it cannot say ‘where possible’! I can’t believe I just read this – New Labour spin trying to legitimise collusion in torture. Are these perhaps ministers with something to be worried about?
Tony Blair was aware of the existence of a secret interrogation policy which effectively led to British citizens, and others, being tortured during counter-terrorism investigations, the Guardian can reveal.
The policy, devised in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, offered guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers questioning detainees in Afghanistan who they knew were being mistreated by the US military.
British intelligence officers were given written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture and that they must not “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners”.
But they were also told they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent detainees from being mistreated.
“Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.
It’s not something they’re not already known to do. But still the newest claims about the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour are shocking:
Metropolitan Police officers subjected suspects to waterboarding, according to allegations at the centre of an anti-corruption inquiry.
The torture claims are part of an investigation which also includes accusations that evidence was fabricated and suspects’ property was stolen. It has already led to the abandonment of a drugs trial and the suspension from duty of several officers.
However, senior policing officials are most alarmed by the claim that officers in Enfield, North London, used the controversial CIA interrogation technique, in which water is poured on to a cloth covering the suspect’s face, causing them to feel they are on the point of suffocation.
Alan Johnson has his work cut out for him. New Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has already abandoned the concept of ‘institutional racism’ as a viable tool to use in Met reform, and has supported his force after the G20 policing disaster (what is going on with the IPCC investigation by the way?). Is it any wonder that fundamental human rights might also be being breached by these thugs?
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It’s quite timely to look back at this video by Amnesty International and Riz Ahmed. Of course many people imprisoned by the United States and United Kingdom under the auspices of the ‘War’ on Terror were entirely innocent. Yet many people are still prepared to dismiss torture, despite the experiences of people like Binyam Mohamed – a British national who underwent extraordinary rendition and was tortured over a period of years. Denying the humanity of other human beings is wrong for any reason. That way lies another Holocaust.
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(with thanks to Paul Canning)
And the Daily Kos has a superb, fully referenced timeline detailing this mess the United States has got itself into around torture. Merely reading the Red Cross’ report about torture at Guantánamo Bay makes for harrowing reading. The United States, more than most countries, is supposed not to be about the wanton infliction of cruel and degrading treatment on others for any reason. This isn’t a political perspective, this is about basic humanity. Bear in mind even Bush’s FBI director has publicly stated that torture never prevented a single terrorist atrocity in the post-9/11 period. Yet even now war criminals like Dick Cheney continue to justify their behaviour when in office. Scared of having to face justice perhaps?
(via Andrew Sullivan)
It’s quite ironic for a former PoW who himself had been tortured, but presidential campaign loser John McCain is actually complaining about the prospect of Obama holding even the ‘Bush Six’, the lawyers who redefined torture into legality, to account:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Thursday that any attempt by the Obama administration to prosecute the Bush-era lawyers who wrote memos signing off on waterboarding would start a “witch hunt.”
“If you criminalize legal advice, which is basically what they’re going to do, then it has a terribly chilling effect on any kind of advice and counsel that the president might receive,” McCain said during an interview on CBS’s “Early Show.”
The former GOP presidential nominee and POW supported Obama’s decision to end the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques but insisted that those who gave legal advice should not be prosecuted because they were “sworn to do their duty to the best of their ability.”
It’s a ridiculous, partisan claim to make. ‘Doing their duty to the best of their ability’ can’t possibly include twisting the law to enable the basest cruelty and inhumanity, merely because those even higher up say so.
But is Obama once again cold on the idea? For the sake of keeping the United States a ‘nation of laws’, we can only hope not.
It’s looking increasingly like I was right – he is playing a long game:
Senior members of the Bush administration who approved the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation measures could face prosecution, President Obama disclosed today .
He said the use of torture reflected America “losing our moral bearings”.
He said his attorney general, Eric Holder, was conducting an investigation and the decision rested with him. Obama last week ruled out prosecution of CIA agents who carried out the interrogation of suspected al-Qaida members at Guantánamo and secret prisons around the world.
But for the first time today he opened up the possibility that those in the administration who gave the go-ahead for the use of waterboarding could be prosecuted.
The revelation will enrage senior Bush administration figures such as the former vice-president Dick Cheney.
The Obama administration views the use of waterboarding as torture, while Cheney claims it is not.
Obama, taking questions from the press during a visit by King Abdullah of Jordan, reiterated he did not believe in prosecution of those CIA agents who carried out the interrogations within the guidelines set down for them. But “with respect to shoe who formulated” the policies, “that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws”. He added: “I don’t want to prejudge that.”He also opened the way for a Congressional inquiry into the issue.
It’s a dangerous political game, trying to appease vested interests in the CIA and on the political right by not going for the flunkies, whilst implicitly begging for the political capital to go essentially after the ‘Bush Six’ – the men who wrote the memos authorising torture. It also explains why the Spanish Attorney-General is now eager to drop that country’s criminal proceedings. I think Andrew Sullivan is right when he says of Obama’s release of the memos and Cheney’s push to get more released:
this seems to me to be a real opportunity to set up the Truth Commission many of us have been asking for. Release all the data on the torture – all of it – alongside the intelligence we got from it. At least then we will have the data needed to see this in full perspective. It needs to be in context and it needs to be assessed by an independent panel – bipartisan and widely respected – along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. Decisions to prosecute could be made after all the material is laid out. This will take time – and should be done carefully and exhaustively.
Posted in Barack Obama, Human rights, politics
Tagged Attorney General, Barack Obama, Bush administration, Bush Six, CIA, Eric Holder, President Obama, terrorism, terrorists, torture, waterboarding