The UK and Torture
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
Almost ten years ago, David Miliband, then UK foreign secretary, was making great efforts to prevent GOSL from completing its imminent victory over the LTTE. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian accused him of “pipsqueak diplomacy”. I published an article suggesting that Miliband should be tried for war crimes. This is why. When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in torture. Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans and others to be tortured but, 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. He certainly played a very active role in covering up torture.
In 2011, the UK government paid £ 2.2m compensation to Sami al-Saadi. He was an opponent of Quadaffi and claimed 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 and phone numbers relating to Libyan dissidents living in Britain. The compensation payment did not constitute an admission of guilt. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “There has been no admission of liability and no finding by any court of liability.”
Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, did get a fulsome apology. Fatima was pregnant when the couple was detained by the CIA in Thailand and deported to Malaysia in February 2004 on their way to London. Mr Belhaj claims that MI6 sent a fax to the Libyan intelligence services informing them of their detention. They were flown to Tripoli, blindfolded, hooded and shackled to stretchers. Mr Belhaj alleges he suffered four years of torture and isolation. On May 10, 2018 Theresa May apologized to them and said the British government was “profoundly sorry” for their “appalling treatment.”
Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian UK resident who spent seven years in US custody. He returned to the UK in 2009 after all charges were dropped. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands represented him. After being captured, Mohamed was first taken to Pakistan and tortured by Pakistani guards while being interrogated by US and UK intelligence officers. He was then taken to Morocco. Another human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, wrote 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. He spent 18 months in Morocco and was then taken to the Dark Prison in Afghanistan where he was kept in total darkness and tortured for another six months. He then spent four years in Guantanamo. MI5 supplied questions to his interrogators
Sands criticized Miliband’s judgment in making efforts to keep this case quiet and to defend and lose many other cases which could have been dealt with by other means. Miliband must have “seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA”. Sands claimed: “The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable (legally valid) case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11.“ Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records.
This issue has come to light again following the release on 28 June 2018 of two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee. The reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite mistreatment. The committee found three individual cases where MI6 or MI5 made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies either suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. Britain is not a virgin when it comes to torture. See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/britain-teaches-the-world-to-torture/
Jack Straw said: “The report also shows that where I was involved in decisions I consistently sought to ensure that the United Kingdom did act in accordance with its long-stated policies, and international norms.”
Theresa May said: ““We should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances, but it is only right that they should be held to the highest possible standards in protecting our national security.”
That’s OK then!