Britain’s Secret Post-9/11 Torture Policy Revealed: Was Tony Blair’s Government Guilty of “Developing Something Close to a Criminal Policy”?

As the British government’s toothless torture inquiry is abandoned by ten NGOs and lawyers for the former Guantánamo prisoners, who have long recognized that it was nothing more than a whitewash, but have now given up on even trying to engage with it, politicians in the Tory-led coalition government are not the only ones feeling the heat. Yesterday, in a world exclusive, the Guardian‘s Ian Cobain exposed a top secret document, entitled, “Agency policy on liaison with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment,” which “reveal[ed] how MI6 and MI5 officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas.”

Describing the document as reportedly being “too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition,” and as contributing to the decision by the NGOs and lawyers to boycott the inquiry because it does not have “credibility or transparency,” the Guardian explained how the secret policy “was operated by the British government for almost a decade,” and how it “instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought must be balanced against ‘the level of mistreatment anticipated’ — the degree to which the prisoner or prisoners will suffer.”

The Guardian also explained how the document revealed the fears of the government and the intelligence agencies that they were breaking laws, as it “acknowledged that MI5 and MI6 officers could be in breach of both UK and international law by asking for information from prisoners held by overseas agencies known to use torture,” and also “explained the need to obtain political cover for any potentially criminal act by consulting ministers beforehand.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Good Day for Justice: British Supreme Court Bans Use of Secret Evidence by Intelligence Services

In a triumph for the principles of open justice, and a snub to the Tory-led coalition government, the British Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the government and the intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in court to prevent open discussion of allegations that prisoners were subjected to torture.

The appeal, by lawyers for MI5 — but with the explicit backing of the government — sought to overturn a ruling in the Court of Appeal last May, when judges ruled that the intelligence services could not suppress allegations, in a civil claim for damages submitted by six former Guantanamo prisoners, that the British government and its agents had been complicit in their ill-treatment. The six are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga, and they argued, as the Guardian put it, that “MI5 and MI6 aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition.”

The ruling last May precipitated a huge crisis in the government, as the first of hundreds of thousands of classified documents emerged from the court, revealing the extent to which Tony Blair and Jack Straw were up to their necks in wrongdoing, preventing consular access to a British citizen in Zambia, in Tony Blair’s case, and in Straw’s, approving the rendition of British citizens to Guantanamo the day before the prison opened in January 2002. I covered this story in detail in my article, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture Inquiry Boycotted by Lawyers, As David Cameron Fails Again to Demonstrate an Interest in Justice

Last Wednesday, just before David Cameron was engulfed in the News of the World phone hacking crisis, he had the opportunity to practice demonstrating the disregard for justice that he called on in response to the Murdoch scandal, when he attempted to distance himself from his friendship with two former News of the World editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who, of course, served as his director of communications until January this year.

The practice run last Wednesday involved the torture inquiry that Cameron announced exactly a year before, on July 6, 2010, when he told the House of Commons that he had asked a judge, Sir Peter Gibson to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11,” noting that, although there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture,” there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.” Last Wednesday, the terms of reference for the torture inquiry were published. With storm clouds gathering over Wapping, David Cameron did not comment directly as human rights groups and lawyers savaged the pending inquiry as a whitewash, but he had already done all that was needed in the preceding twelve months. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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