Why Britain shares America’s torture shame

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Commentary by Derek Bateman

If America’s torture regime was shameful, as even their allies claim, how much of that shame is shared by the UK?

From the handwringing and teeth-sucking there is a cloud of hypocrisy rising from those who prefer not to interfere in the United States’ actions and, if necessary, will participate in it, but then pretend ignorance.

At every level the orchestrated state torture of individuals, illegal and unconstitutional, is massaged by the guilty into self-serving convenience. So the President can shake his head at the anti-American morality of it all while simultaneously offering pardon to the culpable and the CIA can say of its barbarism  the ‘programme had shortcomings’.

We’re even asked to believe that the publication of the Senate report on what were actions carried out on behalf of the American people is some kind of beacon of democratic accountability. For that to hold true, someone has to be held accountable and face the peoples’ wrath.

It is the same this side of the Atlantic where brows are furrowed and heads shaken as happened over the wider Iraqi aftermath when those who effectively campaigned for war in Blair’s entourage – Alistair Campbell and John Reid prominent – declaimed with pained sincerity that they ‘didn’t know at the time’ (the truth about WMD). Pity then about Hans Blix and the conclusive weapons search and the million marchers who demanded not in my name.

Still, at least we are also having an inquiry into British involvement in the most widespread torture campaign since the Nazis. Or are we? Cameron promised one but when it was announced, the final word on what could be known by the voters was left with the most senior civil servant instead of a judge. In other words, the politicians would hold sway and serve their own interests first. Campaigners refused to take part and the inquiry was cancelled.

Rendition to Libya was rolled into it too and police inquiries, we are led to believe, are continuing. Another go at an inquiry may follow.

The trouble is that witness after witness has averred that British officials were associated with their kidnap, rendition and torture, sometimes intimately so. At first officially, there was ‘no British involvement’. Then there was a stopover at Diego Garcia. Then we heard of refuelling at Prestwick.

Liberty says: ‘We now know that during the War on Terror many people were unlawfully transferred from one territory to another in circumstances where they were subjected to torture, horrendous conditions of imprisonment and ill-treatment…in 2008 officials stated they were unsure how many other times such flights had passed through British airspace. This is despite previously consistent denials by the government of any such use of UK airspace.’

Here’s Jack Straw in 2005: ‘Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.’

Here’s David Miliband in 2008: ‘Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred.’

We now know that across Europe and into Africa there were secret prisons for detainees who would face inhuman treatment. Is it conceivable that Britain which was the Americans’ closest ally and which had agents in the field, was ignorant of this?

If you imagine the detainees all to be committed jihadist killers, it seems that as many as 26 were ‘wrongly held’, notoriously among them the al-Saadi family. They were rendered en mass (or en famille) to Libya in 2004 – Sami, an anti-Gaddafi dissident, his wife Karima and their four children, the eldest 12 and the youngest just six.

A pregnant woman was also rendered. She was Fatima Bouchard and she provides another link with the Labour government because after her forced return to Libya along with her husband where they were jailed, Britain was proud of its efforts in helping. So much so, that MI6 agent Mark Allen sent a letter to the Libyan regime to congratulate them on the arrival of their ‘air cargo’ (the Libyan couple).

The letter was addressed to the head of security in Libya Musa Kusa. He arrived in London after defecting and was set free, presumably because he had been an asset to Britain who couldn’t be allowed to talk about the nature of UK contacts with Gaddafi.

He was also the key figure who would have known the truth about any Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie Bombing. But while Megrahi was pursued and jailed, the security chief was released.

This convoluted snakes and ladders is the stuff of what passes for modern diplomacy and it shows that ‘national interest’ is a shifting and sinewy creature wriggling wherever the dark is to be found.

We only discovered after the release, courtesy of Sir Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary, that it had been British policy to aid the release of Megrahi all along. This had been made known to the Cabinet which at the time included Jim Murphy as Scottish Secretary. But no one made this information public. Meanwhile Iain Gray was roundly lambasting the SNP government for letting Megrahi go apparently unaware that his Labour colleague Murphy already knew it was government policy. (When I tried to get Murphy to admit this, he failed three times to respond).

So there is a history of the Cabinet having knowledge of security issues and keeping quiet, which is what I believe happened over torture rendition –  the British State knowingly staged kidnappings and illegal transport of victims for a torture regime and, in the spirit of outsourcing, gave questions to the torturers to ask…that’s our government…our LABOUR government. That is as shameful as water-boarding and cattle prods and puts us side by side with the torturers themselves. Labour – ‘Britain’s democratic socialist party…’