David Miliband – War Criminal
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
This article was published in the Sunday Island on September 17, 2011
Edward Pearce wrote thus of David Miliband on his London Review of Books blog: “Miliband, as foreign secretary (not the job it was, but the sort of empty chair that still rates gilt legs), responded to the killing in Gaza a year ago, largely by artillery, of 1200 men, women and children, with another silence…In truth, the man is a beautifully modulated void. Moderately young, pleasant spoken, nicely null, he has worked in politics, from outer office to the FO, all his graceful, inconsiderable life.”
David Miliband is clearly one of yesterday’s men but does not appear to realise it. After peevishly slinking away following his defeat by his baby brother, he has taken to advising the USA, in the New York Times and at MIT (one of his alma maters).
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian mocked his interference in Sri Lanka at the end of the war against the LTTE: “a rudimentary study of the past three months of fighting would have told Miliband that a ceasefire would be pro-Tamil [Tiger], not just ‘pro-humanitarian’. He compounded his demand by damning the ‘indiscriminate’ shelling of Tamil civilians. How he could do this while supporting the bombing of Pashtun civilians along the Afghan border is a mystery….The conflict was not ended by this rhetorical intervention. No lives were saved, no British interest served.”
I first became aware of the Miliband band sitting under the imposing dome of Manchester Central Reference library, ploughing through Parliamentary Socialism, a seminal work by the dad of the Miliband boys, Ralph Miliband. In 1967, Ralph wrote in the Socialist Register that “the US has, over a period of years been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, the maiming of many more” and that the United States’s “catalogue of horrors” against the Vietnamese people was being done “in the name of an enormous lie”. He went on to say that the US Government “made no secret of the political and diplomatic importance it attached to the unwavering support of a British Labour Government”.
What would Miliband pére have made of Tony Blair’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan? What would he have made of little David condoning torture? Andy McSmith of The Independent noted that the elder figure had a “nobility and a drama” that was lacking in David and Ed’s “steady, pragmatic political careers”.
Gareth Pierce is a distinguished human rights lawyer who helped free Irish people wrongly convicted by the British government. She wrote: “Torture is the deliberate infliction of pain by a state on captive persons. It is prohibited and so is the use of its product. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment emphasises that there are no exceptional circumstances at all justifying its use” According to Pierce, the British, during the Mandate period in Palestine, in Kenya and Northern Ireland mastered the art of the “lesser” tradition of stress torture, forced standing, forced sitting and choking with water, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and suspension. “These tortures were clean and allowed for plausible denial not because they are less painful, but because they leave less of a visible mark.” Nonetheless, these tortures produce agonising muscle pain. The kidneys eventually shut down.
When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture by other countries’ intelligence services. Ironically, the UK’s involvement in the revolution in Libya has brought to light evidence of its dirty dealings with Quadaffi. Libyan Islamist Sami al-Saadi, also known as Abu Munthir, claims that in 2004 he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain and identified at least one organisation using UK telephone numbers.
Current foreign secretary William Hague’s response is that this happened under a Labour government and will be investigated by the Gibson Inquiry. According to the Guardian: “torture victims will have no right to put questions to those allegedly complicit in their abuse, even through lawyers. They will not be allowed to know what evidence is given by the security services on their torture and illegal rendition, while the final word on whether any of this will be made public rests not with the judge but the cabinet secretary. In a proper judicial inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson, a former intelligence services commissioner who had the task of monitoring MI5 and MI6, would be appearing not as a judge but as a potential witness.”
Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans to be tortured. Gareth Pierce wrote about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK, in the London Review of Books:
“British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.”
Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest.
As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.
As Philippe Sands writes, he cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary: “he could have announced that he wanted to establish a proper inquiry. He didn’t do that – and was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. That is not to say he was idle throughout this period; he seems to have put considerable energy into defending a number of claims in the English courts relating to torture against his department.”
A special investigation, published in the 29 August issue of the New Statesman, showed how British troops regularly hand over suspected insurgents to the Afghan authorities with little guarantee that they will not be tortured.
Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who has twice been cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.
Philippe Sands was Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer. He discussed a letter sent to him by Miliband: “Was it wise to defend cases in circumstances where he had seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA? Miliband fought and lost a series of cases that can and should have been resolved by other means. That raises a question of judgment. The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11. Responsibility for such complicity could lie at the feet of rogue intelligence officers, who may have been off on a frolic. Or it could lie with those ministers who signed off on the relevant guidance, assuming they did…Many would not be surprised if all roads led to Tony Blair (who described Guantánamo as ‘understandable’ in his memoir)…It is not unusual to hear the suggestion that Miliband’s actions may have been motivated in part by a desire to protect the reputation of his colleagues… His attitude to the Iraq war is equally unhappy, invoking the refrain that ‘if I knew then what I know now I would have voted against’. This recognises that the war was the wrong decision but falls well short of an expression of regret”.
Ralph Miliband died in 1994, before New Labour came to power. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery close to Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer (Marx and Spencer!) and is probably rotating in his grave. Hilary Wainwright wrote in Red Pepper that Ralph Miliband displayed: “a notable modesty, refusal of sectarianism and a combination of deep socialist conviction with constant interrogation of established views, including his own. Such characteristics meant, incidentally, that the only kind of leadership in which he was ever interested was teaching and encouraging others, in every possible form.”
She continued: “An ironic side effect of the distinctly tarnished campaign for the Labour throne (tarnished by the toxic record of New Labour – a group of privatisers, torturers and warmongers as far removed from the founders of the Labour Party as fire from water) is that Ralph’s thinking has once again been able to shine.”
Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”
The UN Convention requires that wherever the torture occurred and whatever the nationality of the torturer or victim, parties must prosecute or extradite perpetrators to a country that is willing to prosecute them.
Could a Sri Lankan lawyer build a case to prosecute David Miliband for condoning torture?