Britain and CIA torture programs: silence is deafening

So the CIA have admitted what everyone knew: they tortured people. Diane Feinstein believes that history will judge the US for facing up to their mistakes, although I think it’s more likely that history will judge them for torturing people. News reports on ITV and Channel 4 on the evening of the release of the report talked of a program going rogue, that it was a runaway train that even the head of the operation wanted off. If this is the case – that the head of the operation knew what was going down – then the question is why was it not stopped? Britain’s role in all this is unclear (meaning that our government’s dirty hands are all over it).

British officials and former PMs can wring hands, deny direct involvement and hide behind the fact that our country’s name has been redacted, but if we think that this is good enough, we are kidding ourselves. The silence of our dear Prime Minister David Cameron is deafening; the silence of former-PM Tony Blair even more so. Blair’s reaction was a “no comment”, while Cameron says that the torture claims have “been dealt with a from a British perspective”. Cameron pointed to a report by a retired UK judge into Great Britain’s role in the US’s sickening torture program as evidence that we had dealt with it. On the contrary, far from indicating that Britain was on top of things, the 119-page report raised 27 issues for further questioning.

The first paragraph of the section on further questions is illuminating:

The documents received by the Inquiry indicate that in some instances UK intelligence officers were aware of inappropriate interrogation techniques and mistreatment or allegations of mistreatment of some detainees by liaison partners from other countries. Many of these instances were reported to Agency Head Offices. The Inquiry would have wished to examine whether that reporting was adequate and, in particular, whether the Agency Head Offices then responded adequately or, in some cases, at all. There is an issue as to whether the Agencies raised allegations of mistreatment of detainees with liaison partners with sufficient vigour, and as to the adequacy of assurances sought by the Agencies. In some cases, documents indicate that the Agencies continued to engage with liaison partners in relation to individual detainees where treatment issues may have justified withdrawal or the seeking of appropriate assurances. The Inquiry would have wished to investigate whether the legality of the detainees’ detention abroad and the Agencies’ own methods of questioning were subject to sufficient scrutiny and consideration.

In short, UK agents knew of torture, and reported this to their bosses, who then also knew about torture. The heads of UK intelligence then did basically nothing in response to the torture, not even raising the issue with the US. On top of this, they continued to work with the US, including in cases they knew torture was being used. Further to these concerns, there may also be instances of torture by UK agents, but the inquiry basically wasn’t allowed to investigate them. Exactly how this represents “dealing with” the allegations is beyond me. In fact, it is essentially concrete proof, given that nobody responsible for this is in jail, that the system is utterly incapable of dealing with this.

The 27 issues that the “the Inquiry would have wished to investigate” are damning in themselves. Here are the 8 that specifically concern interrogation, the subject of the recent US reports.

  1. Did UK intelligence officers have knowledge of inappropriate interrogation techniques or detention conditions applied by personnel of other countries in some cases? In those cases was there adequate reporting back from theatres/stations and an adequate response from Agency Head Offices?
  1. Was there reluctance in some cases to raise detainee issues either at all, or sufficiently robustly, with liaison partners?
  1. Did the Agencies inappropriately continue to engage with liaison partners in the cases of individual detainees after treatment issues of concern had been identified?
  1. Was adequate consideration given to obtaining assurances from liaison partners and to the need for any assurances to be specific and credible?
  1. Was the Agencies’ own questioning of detainees appropriate having regard to the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition on coercion, threats, unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment?
  1. Was sufficient consideration given to the legality of detainees’ detention, including to whether the detention was incommunicado?
  1. Did engagement by the Agencies with liaison partners, in circumstances where there was some co-ordination on interviewing approaches/techniques, always remain within appropriate bounds?
  1. Was sufficient attention given to record keeping in relation to engagement with detainees?

These are not questions that, in a situation that was “dealt with”, would remain unanswered. The very fact that these questions are being asked by an official inquiry suggests that there is at least some level of guilt borne by the UK intelligence services; the report does not specify guilt, but with regards to what governments say about themselves, it is necessary to read between the lines. I would suggest that none of the questions have entirely satisfactory answers, and that where torture is concerned, anything but a perfectly clean slate – no ifs, buts and technicalities – is a disgusting crime against humanity.

Tony Blair, who was ultimately in charge when all of this happened, will not even be asked to say whether he knew what was going on. He will not even have to stand up in front of the public and lie to save his own skin. In a just world, Blair would be put on trial and forced to at least make a statement on what he knew. At least that way he would, if guilty, have to perjure himself and face legal trouble down the line for his complicity in such acts. It is not a just world, however. Blair, like those who were imprisoned and abused by the Americans, will not face a trial. Unlike them, however, he is presumed innocent in the face of a fair amount of evidence otherwise, while the victims of his actions have been presumed guilty and subjected to unimaginable horrors.

The report by Sir Peter Gibson is available here

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Filed under Politics, UK politics

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