Archive for the ‘torture’ Category
From Al Jazeera
It’s a case involving allegations of torture, long-hidden government records, and a successful anti-colonial struggle.
Four Kenyans, including two who say they were castrated, sexually abused and severely beaten in a British-run prison camp during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s, have launched a lawsuit against the UK government. Legal proceedings begin in London on Thursday.
“I don’t think many people are aware of the idea that the British government was involved in the systematic torture and abuse of people fighting for their freedom,” said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day & Co, the law firm representing aging Kenyan activists…
The historical research of David Anderson, a specialist of African politics at Oxford University, has played a crucial role in the case.
During archival searches in Kenya and the UK during the 1990s, he found the British had “deliberately” taken documents out of Kenya before the country declared independence in 1963.
“It was a conspiracy to conceal things from the Kenyan government,” Anderson told Al Jazeera, adding that British law, specifically the Public Records Act of 1958, prohibits this sort of behavior.
Anderson interviewed a number of senior former colonial officials to ask whether documents were removed from Kenya. “They shrugged in kind of a cagey way and said ‘what do you think?’ You don’t leave your dirty laundry for the new house dwellers to find it, you take it with you.”
Historians estimate that at least 90,000 Kenyans were executed or tortured between 1952 and 1960, with tens of thousands more detained under brutal conditions as they fought for independence. Mau Mau rebels are also blamed for violent attacks on white farmers and colonial authorities.
“The experience of these claimants was not unique,” said Anderson, who has written several books about Kenya. “I would go as far to say that torture was systemic, it was part of a system of detention and abuse, organised in a pragmatic way.”
Lawyers for the UK government will argue the case should be thrown out of court because the events in question happened decades ago and are difficult to prove today. “That [time delay] will be in big issue heard by the court in the next few days,” said Day, the plaintiff’s lawyer.
“They [lawyers for the government] also say we are suing the wrong people; they say we should be suing the Kenyan government,” Day told Al Jazeera…
‘Cover-up’ or bungle-up?
Records from the UK Foreign Office, discovered as part of the court case, could include information on torture.
In November 2010, in the lead up to the case, Anderson issued a statement to the court, detailing why he believed records existed.
The judge took the historian’s letter seriously and instructed the Foreign Office to find the documents which they previously said did not exist.
“Within 48 hours, they [Foreign Office officials] had the documents,” said Anderson. Officials later admitted they made a mistake in not locating the documents earlier. “I am not sure if I entirely swallow that explanation,” Anderson said. “I think this was a conspiracy that became a cock-up.” He stressed that the contents of the secret files remain unknown…
In the early days of the Iraq war, Telegraph columnist Con Coughlin was famously obliging in disseminating the bogus claims of the US and UK governments about Weapons of Mass Destruction and a supposed link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
When the focus of US “public diplomacy” switched towards the clamour for military action in Iran, Coughlin was equally helpful in promoting unsubstantiated claims about a link between Al Qaeda and the Iranian government.
Amid growing evidence that many of the false (yet politically useful) intelligence claims used to justify the Iraq war came from confessions extracted through torture, one might think that Coughlin, and the Telegraph, would now treat the assertions of the security services with a little more scepticism.
Instead, Coughlin seems to have gone the other way, cautioning Barack Obama not to “pick a fight with Dick Cheney”, asserting, without offering any evidence, that “We know that at least two major terrorist attacks against the UK were avoided thanks to vital intelligence provided to MI6 and MI5 by the CIA”, and suggesting that “There are always two sides to a story”.
“Are interrogation methods like waterboarding justified if they save lives”, Coughlin asks, “or should we respect the detainees’ human rights, thereby enabling the terror attacks to take place and claim innocent lives? I know which option I’d go for.”
If the CIA made drinks commercials…
This week’s release by the Obama administration of further details of the CIA’s interrogation policies under Bush-Cheney has triggered a renewed debate about whether or not torture “works”. Some people argue that torture is pointless because the person undergoing it will tell whatever lies they think you want to hear in order to get the torture to stop.
But it seems to me that this is only a problem if you’re concerned about extracting evidence that is accurate and truthful. If what you’re really after is information that is simply going to be politically useful, then the War on Terror surely gives us ample evidence that torture does, indeed, work.
To take just one example, in February 2003, US secretary of state Colin Powell announced disturbing evidence of links between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. An unnamed ‘senior terrorist operative’ had told US interrogators that Iraq had offered chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda members over a number of years. One high-ranking militant had allegedly visited Iraq several times, ‘for help in acquiring poisons and gases’.
This was clearly useful information – it added weight to US government claims of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda at a time when the Bush administration was working hard to build public support for its invasion of Iraq. By strengthening the idea that the Iraqis were on the same side as the people who had carried out 911, the information also helped win a tacit acceptance of the use of torture by US forces in Iraq itself, at places like Abu Ghraib, Camp Nama and Forward Operating Base Tiger.
It subsequently emerged that the ‘terrorist operative’ who’d been the source of this information, Ibn al Shaykh al Libi, had made his WMD claims after being subjected to freezing temperatures and controlled drowning (aka “waterboarding”). In November 2005, CIA sources told ABC News that they had concluded that Libi ‘had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment’.
Clearly, in this case, the information extracted through torture was neither true nor accurate, but it did nonetheless help the Bush administration to persuade Americans that Iraq was implicated in 911, and that the 2003 invasion was therefore necessary and justified.
If governments are forbidden to torture people who might be in a position to yield such “useful” (albeit false) information, then we’re depriving them of a vital tool for justifying controversial policies that might otherwise meet intractable public opposition. Had the US government not been able to use torture in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, then it would have been incapable of producing much of the key intelligence suggesting that Iraq had WMD and was linked to Al Qaeda.
In fact, it seems possible that without the use of torture-intelligence, the political campaign would have been impossible to get off the ground and that the invasion itself, with all that it entailed, would therefore never have happened. The consequences of such a grim scenario for a whole range of US and UK companies – from Halliburton and Blackwater to Aegis and BAE - seem barely imaginable.
From The Guardian:
The report is sharply critical of British co-operation in the transfer of detainees to places where they are likely to be tortured as part of the US rendition programme. It accuses British intelligence officers of interviewing detainees held incommunicado in Pakistan in ”so-called safe houses where they were being tortured”.
It adds that Britain, and a number of other countries, sent interrogators to Guantánamo Bay in a further example of what “can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning” torture and ill-treatment. It said the US was able to create its system for moving terror suspects around foreign jails only with the support of its allies.
A couple of weeks ago, anonymous Ministry of Defence Officials were accused of smearing Human Rights Watch by suggesting, falsely, that the HRW researcher in Afghanistan had improperly obtained official secrets by becoming (to use the standard euphemistic term) “close” to a British army officer.
Now it’s been revealed that HRW are shortly to release a report giving detailed evidence of complicity in torture by UK government officials in neighbouring Pakistan.
From the Observer:
Among the 10 identified cases of British citizens and residents mentioned in the report is Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, from Rochdale, who claims he was tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by two MI5 officers. Ahmed was convicted of being a member of al-Qaida at Manchester crown court, yet the jury was not told that three of the fingernails of his left hand had been removed. The response from MI5 to the allegations that it had colluded in Ahmed’s torture were heard in camera, however, after the press and the public were excluded from the proceedings. Ahmed’s description of the cell in which he claims he was tortured closely matches that where Salahuddin Amin, 33, from Luton, says he was tortured by ISI officers between interviews with MI5 officers.
Zeeshan Siddiqui, 25, from London, who was detained in Pakistan in 2005, also claims he was interviewed by British intelligence agents during a period in which he was tortured.
Other cases include that of a London medical student who was detained in Karachi and tortured after the July 2005 attacks in London. Another case involving Britons allegedly tortured in Pakistan and questioned by UK agents involves a British Hizb ut-Tahrir supporter.
Rashid Rauf, from Birmingham, was detained in Pakistan and questioned over suspected terrorist activity in 2006. He was reportedly killed after a US drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal regions, though his body has never been found.
Hasan said: “What the research suggests is that these are not incidents involving one particular rogue officer or two, but rather an array of individuals involved over a period of several years.
“The issue is not just British complicity in the torture of British citizens, it is the issue of British complicity in the torture period. We know of at least 10 cases, but the complicity probably runs much deeper because it involves a series of terrorism suspects who are Pakistani. This is the heart of the matter.
“They are not the same individuals [MI5 officers] all the time. I know that the people who have gone to see Siddiqui in Peshawar are not the same people who have seen Ahmed in Rawalpindi.”
Last night the government faced calls to clarify precisely its relationship with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which are known to routinely use torture.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the extent to which politicians – and the media – exploit public fears about terrorism in order to sell newspapers and ill-conveived government policies. Now the former MI5 head Stella Rimmington has joined those raising concerns, arguing that “It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties”.
From The Telegraph:
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.
Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.
“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.
From The Guardian
A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court.
A number of British terrorism suspects who have been detained without trial in Pakistan say they were tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by MI5. In some cases their accusations are supported by medical evidence.
The existence of an official interrogation policy emerged during cross-examination in the high court in London of an MI5 officer who had questioned one of the detainees, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident currently held in Guantánamo Bay.
From The Observer
When I talk to people at very senior levels in government, I don’t find them willing to put a hand on heart and swear that British agents were never complicit in torture. British and American intelligence are closely enmeshed; it stretches credulity to snapping point that no one in the Blair government knew what was being perpetrated.
On the same day that the foreign secretary was facing accusations of a cover-up, Tony Blair was in Washington wearing his faith on his sleeve. At a “prayer breakfast” with Barack Obama, the former prime minister made more than 30 mentions of God and declared: “We pray that in acting we do God’s work and follow God’s will.”
Only God knows how Tony Blair reconciles his conscience with his role in this disgraceful period. It was not as if the Bush administration made much pretence about it. “Bad things happen to bad people,” baldly declared Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Did Tony Blair never ask what was going on? If he did not ask, was it because he knew he would not like the answer? His own law officers were highly uncomfortable with the legal black hole created at Guantánamo. Charlie Falconer, not only his lord chancellor but also one of his closest allies, tried to persuade his friend to raise his voice in opposition. He failed. “An anomaly” was all Mr Blair would ever say about Camp Delta when he was prime minister.
The true extent to which British officials colluded in torture is yet to be established. In terms of ethical complicity, I think we can already begin to return a verdict. As the God-fearing Tony Blair knows, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. “We have condoned with our silence torture committed by others,” says Charles Guthrie, his favourite general.
US government threatens to withdraw intelligence co-operation with UK if torture evidence is publicised
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at the evidence of systematic torture within the “War on Terror”, and the arguments used to justify it. Since the book was published, yet more evidence has emerged of the extent of the abuses, the complicity of UK forces, and the efforts to cover this up.
Today it was revealed that the US government threatened to withdraw intelligence co-operation with MI5 if the UK High Court published evidence detailing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, who was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and tortured in a number of different locations before being taken to Guantanamo. The Times has more:
The United States government has threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with the UK if evidence of the alleged torture of a ‘terrorist’ detainee at Guantanamo Bay is made public.
Details of how a British resident held in the detention camp was allegedly tortured and what UK intelligence knew about it must remain secret because of the US threats, the High Court ruled today.
Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said lawyers for the Foreign Secretary had told them that the threat by the United States still applied under President Barack Obama’s Administration.
The startling disclosure that the US has threatened to re-evaluate sharing intelligence with Britain came just a day after Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, lavished praise on the “special relationship” between the two countries.
In spite of noting that it is completely contrary to the rule of law not to release the evidence, the judges said it must remain secret otherwise “the public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk”
Update – Further comment from Clive Stafford Smith in today’s Guardian:
When history reviews the past eight years, the most lasting concern will not be ill-advised experiments such as Guantánamo Bay. Rather, it will be the creeping tendency of democratic governments to use “national security” as an excuse to keep the truth from those who have elected them. After all, if the US and the UK can conspire to suppress evidence of torture, what other dark secrets can they hide?
The lawyers’ warning came after a senior member of the Bush administration, Susan Crawford, admitted for the first time that torture had been carried out. Until now, the Bush administration, in particular the vice-president, Dick Cheney, had denied the interrogation techniques at Guantánamo constituted torture.
Crawford’s admission of torture is in relation to the case of a Saudi national, Mohammed al-Qahtani, 30, accused of involvement in the 9/11 attack. He is often referred to by US authorities as the “20th hijacker”. He was denied entry to the US in August 2001 and captured in Afghanistan in 2002. He was tortured for a month and then kept in isolation.
Crawford, a Pentagon official who last year was put in charge of military commissions that decide whether detainees should be tried, told the Washington Post: “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].” She added: “The techniques they used were all authorised, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent.”
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today declared that the use of the phrase “war on terror” as a western rallying cry since the September 11 attacks had been a mistake that may have caused “more harm than good”.
In an article in today’s Guardian, five days before the Bush administration leaves the White House, Miliband delivered a comprehensive critique of its defining mission, saying that the war on terror was misconceived and that the west cannot “kill its way” out of the threats it faces.
Alexis Sinduhije outlines his political vision earlier this year
Four days ago, the acclaimed Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije was arrested for holding an “unauthorised” meeting of his new multi-ethnic political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy. It says something about the state of the world – and the internet’s potential for positive political action – that the message first came through to many of Alexis’ supporters through the MSD’s Facebook page.
The indefatigable US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch quickly issued a statement calling for Alexis’ release – and drawing attention to the Nkurunziza-regime’s wider pattern of suppressing political opposition. This has reportedly now been followed by this message from the US Embassy in Bujumbura:
The United States regards the incarceration by Burundian authorities of Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije as unacceptable. Mr. Sinduhije was arrested on November 3 in Bujumbura, reportedly to be questioned for conducting an illegal meeting. To date, he has not been charged. We believe Mr. Sinduhije should be freed immediately. It remains our hope the Government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights.
Torture-happy General Adolphe Nshimirimana is rumoured to be behind the attack on Sinduhije
According to the veteran Burundian statesman Gratien Rukindikiza, Alexis was arrested at the behest of the appropriately-named secret police chief, General Adolphe Nshimirimana – Burundi being the only country I know in the world where any variation of the name “Adolf” is still in common use.
Nshimirimana, who has previously been implicated in the systematic torture of Palipehutu-FNL “suspects”, has, according to Rukindikiza, accused Alexis, without evidence, of recruiting fighters for the Congolese Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda – and also levelled the same allegation at Rukindikiza himself.
“That story made me laugh”, Rukindikiza says. “If I was recruiting for any cause, I would recruit thousands of agronomists to help fight famine with modern agricultural methods”.
This latest episode in Burundi’s ongoing political saga has echoes of the Nkurunziza regime’s abortive attempt, back in 2006, to implicate virtually the entire political opposition, both Hutu and Tutsi, in a fictitious plot to assassinate the President. Then as now, the Burundian authorities sought to tie Alexis Sinduhije to the nefarious conspiracy – yet he emerged more popular than ever.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that bogus conspiracy theories are not the exclusive preserve of dodgy men in pubs. Dodgy men in government are often at it too – and Adolphe Nshimirimana’s latest fabricated conspiracy smear against Alexis Sinduhije seems like a very good example.
The Burundi authorities’ 2006 attempt to squash all political opposition on the pretext of a bogus conspiracy fell apart under pressure from the international donors who continue to bankroll much of the country’s budget.
As the 2010 elections approach, it will be interesting to see how far Europe and the US will be prepared to go in insisting that the authorities do more than pay lip service to “good governance” – even if this means puncturing the bubble of wishful thinking at the international level about Burundi’s “forgiving” President, Pierre Nkurunziza.
Ken MacDonald, the outgoing chief prosecutor of England and Wales, has warned against paranoid fears over terrorism being used to justify giving the government ever more “sweeping powers”, the BBC reports.
“We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state”, he said in his final speech.
Following the heavy defeat of government proposals to allow itself to detain people for 42 days without charge, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced plans to create a giant database to monitor the telephone, email and internet usage of everyone in the UK – ostensibly on the basis that this will help to fight terrorism. Opposition parties have described the plan as “Orwellian”.
In his speech, Ken Macdonald urged resistance to what he called the “paraphernalia of paranoia”:
“Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model. You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.
“Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions, rather than to degrade them.
“We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.”
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at the strange nexus between journalists who whip up public fears over terrorism in order to sell more newspapers, and politicians who exaggerate the threat so as to justify their demands for ‘sweeping powers’ to invade our privacy, evade public scrutiny, and control our behaviour.
Craig Murray was UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan from October 2002 to October 2004, when he was removed from his post after repeatedly highlighting the systematic use of torture by the Uzbek authorities. Murray had been sent to Uzbekistan by the UK Foreign Office with a brief that explicitly included the promotion of human rights – but when he began to do so – both in public speeches and internal memos to London – he quickly fell foul of the gap between rhetoric and reality within the ‘War on Terror’. Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, and at the time hosted several US military facilities, was deemed to be a key ally in the global struggle against Islamist terrorism. In March 2003, Murray was summoned to London, and told that his concerns about the use of torture by the Uzbek authorities were understood; the Foreign Secretary had even lost sleep over the right course of action – but that the torture-tainted intelligence being received from Uzbekistan was nonetheless ‘useful’. Murray took a different view:
“this material is useless”, he wrote, in a confidential memo in July 2004, “we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU [an Uzbek armed group] and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.”
By this time, Murray had already – in August 2003 – been slapped with 18 disciplinary charges, suspended, and pressured to resign quietly. When he refused, the Foreign Office was forced to back down – all 18 charges were subsequently dropped.
In the same July 2004 memo, Murray also raised pointed questions about the competence of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), following the fiasco over WMD in Iraq:
“Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler [the Butler report looked into the intelligence failures leading up to the 2003 Iraq war) we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them… At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family’s links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.”
Craig Murray put his job on the line – and ultimately sacrificed a lucrative Foreign Office career – because he believed that the policies he was being asked to support were fundamentally wrong-headed. Yet his struggles against UK Foreign Policy doublethink didn’t end in 2004. In the 2005 General Election he made a quixotic stand as an independent candidate against the same UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who had tried to silence him. An accompanying BBC documentary, which followed his campaign’s progress, billed this “The Ambassador’s Last Stand” – but there was more to come. When, in December 2005, the UK Foreign Office sought to block the inclusion of Murray’s damning memos in his book, “Murder in Samarkand“, he arranged for them to be published instead on hundreds of internet blogs across the world. The Foreign Office’s attempt at covering its tracks had only pushed the issues further into the public domain.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I look at the wider issues raised by the Craig Murray case, and at the delusions around the use of torture within the ‘war on terror’.
The Observer reports that a committee of MPs has cast doubt on UK government denials over the use of torture in Iraq. Evidence heard during the trial of soldiers implicated in the killing of an Iraqi prisoner, Baha Musa, suggested that the troops had been ordered to use coercive interrogation techniques, including hooding and ‘stress positions’. Now the Parliamentary select committee on human rights has accused the Ministry of Defence of blocking their efforts to trace responsibility further up the command chain. The committee also suggests that public assurances given by former armed forces minister Adam Ingram, and Lieutenant General Robin Brims, have been contradicted by evidence that UK troops had been using banned interrogation techniques following legal advice from their superiors in Iraq.
Wide-ranging freedom of information laws in the United States have helped to ensure intense public scrutiny of the conduct of American forces in Iraq. A series of legal-rulings compelling the release of previously classified government documents have helped to illuminate the role played by senior figures in helping to make situations such as Abu Ghraib possible. In Don’t Get Fooled Again I was able to draw on many of these primary sources in seeking to understand Abu Ghraib and other related cases.
But here in the UK, the picture is still far more murky. So far, our senior officials have largely escaped any implication that they ordered or condoned the use of torture or other abusive treatment in Iraq. Cases such as the killing of Baha Musa have largely been seen – as was Abu Ghraib at one time – as the work of ‘bad apples’ rather than the result of systematic, officially-sanctioned, abuses. Britons have so far been able to console themselves over the various fiascos relating to Iraq with the assurance that at least ‘our boys’ would never engage in the kind of systematic depravity pursued by US forces at Abu Ghraib. But in the absence, here in Britain, of the kind of judicially-enforced transparency made possible in the US by robust freedom of information laws, it’s tempting to wonder whether the UK chain of command may simply have been in a better position to cover its tracks.