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How the UK Foreign Office covered up war crimes in the name of “official secrecy”

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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…

Written by Richard Wilson

April 7, 2011 at 7:58 am

Posted in Corruption, torture

Tagged with ,

Pocket journalism: Telegraph hack Con Coughlin goes into bat for torture

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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.”

The evidence that torture “works”

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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.

UN condemns UK government over torture complicity

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From The Guardian:

Britain is condemned today in a highly critical UN report for breaching basic human rights and “trying to conceal illegal acts” in the fight against terrorism.

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.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 10, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Was this why the UK Ministry of Defence decided to smear Human Rights Watch?

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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.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Ex-MI5 head accuses UK government of exploiting public terror fears

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45 minutes from attack

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.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 17, 2009 at 11:15 am

UK government implicated in torture

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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.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 17, 2009 at 11:03 am