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Friday, 12 December 2014

Britain convulsed by its dirty secret in wake of CIA torture report................

CIA interrogation reports

In September 2005, on the day the Guardian published its first edition in the new Berliner format, the newspaper informed its readers that a fleet of CIA aircraft had been using the UK’s airports during the agency’s so-called extraordinary rendition operations.
Aircraft from the 26-strong fleet had flown into and out of the UK at least 210 times since 9/11, the newspaper reported, “an average of one flight a week”, refuelling at RAF bases and civilian airports that included Northolt, Heathrow, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Belfast and – the agency’s favourite destination – Prestwick.
“It is not a matter for the MoD,” one Ministry of Defence official told the newspaper. “The aircraft use our airfields. We don’t ask any questions.”
Since then, a handful of British parliamentarians, judges, human rights activists and journalists have dragged into the public domain one piece of damning evidence after another to construct an incomplete but nonetheless disturbing picture of the UK’s involvement in the global kidnap and torture programme that was launched immediately after 9/11.
There was the disclosure of government memos that showed:
• Jack Straw consigned British terrorism suspects to Guantánamo Bay, and that these men were flown there after Tony Blair had learned the Americans were torturing their prisoners.
• The revelation that at least two victims of the rendition programme were flown in and out of Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean territory.
• The admission that MI5 interrogated a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, after the CIA had provided a graphic description of the way he was being tortured.
• The discovery that MI5 and MI6 officers operated under secret ordersto weigh the importance of the information they hoped to gain from a particular prisoner against the amount of pain that person would likely suffer as it was being extracted.
• The episode in which one British jihadi’s fingernails were ripped outafter MI6 suggested that a notorious Pakistani intelligence agency detain him, and MI5 and Greater Manchester police drew up questions to be put to him.
Finally, there was the discovery, amid the chaos and debris of the Libyan revolution, of a cache of secret correspondence from MI6 which detailed the rendition operations that the agency had been mounting in partnership with the CIA and the Gaddafi and Mubarak regimes. How many such operations were conducted is unclear, although it is known that two Libyan families, including a six-year-old girl and a pregnant woman, were kidnapped and flown to one of Gaddafi’s prisons.
There have been disclosures about these matters in the media and courts, but no effective official investigation has been allowed to run its course in the UK.
In the United States, the Senate intelligence committee this week published a report that laid bare, in excoriating detail, the way in which the CIA had been responsible for the appalling mistreatment of its detainees, and had then lied about the efficacy of its torture techniques.
Sweden’s parliamentary ombudsman has investigated the country’s involvement in the rendition of two men to Egypt and awarded them around $500,000 each in compensation. In Italy, 26 CIA officers and pilots have been convicted in absentia for their role in the kidnap of a Muslim cleric who was flown from Milan to Cairo to be questioned under torture.
In the UK, there has been no such reckoning. The last government resorted to blanket denials for years, and in 2007 the intelligence and security committee (ISC), the panel of MPs and peers that is supposed to provide democratic oversight of the agencies, conducted what it described as an investigation, before concluding that MI5 and MI6 had been guilty only of being “slow to detect the emerging pattern of renditions” by the US. In fact, five days after 9/11, the head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen, had received a three-hour briefing from the CIA on its planned rendition programme.
There have also been six separate police investigations: four concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed further, while two, by Police Scotland and Scotland Yard, have dragged on for years. Within weeks of the coalition being formed, David Cameron promised a judge-led inquiry. “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from parliament, party and government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry,” he told MPs.
The inquiry began its work, but 12 months ago the government shut it down, much to the frustration of Sir Peter Gibson, the judge appointed to lead it. The reason given publicly for scrapping an inquiry that the prime minister had said was needed to restore the UK’s “reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law”, was that Gibson could not examine the Libyan renditions once the police also began investigating them. There was also a behind-the-scenes dispute over the question of who should decide which of the agencies’ secret documents should be made public: the judge, or the agencies themselves.
Gibson told journalists he had seen evidence of UK involvement in rendition, and published an interim report, identifying 27 issues which he believed needed further investigation. However, the government decided that those issues would be investigated by the ISC.
The current ISC chair, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, appears determined the committee will be more rigorous and show greater independence of government, than it has in the past. However, its rendition inquiries will not be completed before next May’s election after which it is unclear who will chair the ISC.
Meanwhile, the committee maintains that it cannot examine the Libyan renditions while a police inquiry is said to be in progress. And once the inquiries it does make are complete, Downing Street will decide how much of its report will be made public or remain secret; a decision that will be taken following consultation with the agencies.
Victims of torture and rendition continue to look to the courts for some acknowledgment that their stories are true, and that what happened was wrong. Government lawyers fight all the way. When one Libyan rendition victim, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, brought proceedings against Straw, the then foreign secretary, and against Allen and MI6, lawyers argued the court should throw out the case because it might damage the UK’s relationship with the US.
When cases against the government do proceed, the most damning evidence may be heard in camera – with even the claimants and their lawyers excluded – under the secret court provisions of the Justice and Security Act, seen by some as the British state’s only effective response to date to the mounting evidence of its involvement in serious human rights abuses.
On Tuesday, after the publication of the Senate committee’s report, Cameron told a news conference in Ankara that he deplored torture, but that “in Britain we have had the Gibson inquiry” – not mentioning that he had shut it down – and that because the ISC was now on the case he was “satisfied that our system is dealing with all of these issues”.
Next day, with the report’s shocking details filling the media, lawyers for a taxi driver from Luton, north of London, who was detained in Pakistan at the behest of the CIA and MI5 and allegedly tortured, were at the high court in London, bringing a damages claim on his behalf. Twenty minutes into the two-day hearing the court was cleared of press and public. Any journalist who tried to disclose what was being said behind closed doors, and what it showed about MI5’s involvement with the taxi driver’s ordeal, would be committing an offence under the Contempt of Court Act, and could face prosecution and imprisonment.
At the exact moment the journalists were ordered out of court, Labour party officials at Westminster were briefing colleagues that Harriet Harman, the shadow deputy prime minister, was not minded to raise the matters dominating the news when she faced Nick Clegg at PMQs later that day. This is hardly surprising, as Clegg would have pointed out she had been a senior member of government at the time the abuses were happening.
And this may help explain the UK’s continuing failure to come fully and honestly to terms with the past, and why the British system of oversight appears to be so anaemic, when compared with the manner in which its senior coalition partner has so painfully exposed its own crimes: there is no evidence that either MI5 or MI6 became involved in kidnap and torture without the full authorisation of government ministers, people for whom there would be legal as well as political consequences, were the truth to be told.