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In Britain a criminal probe is now underway into the torture of an Ethiopian who had been granted protected status and was then held for years in Guantánamo. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also authorized a formal official inquiry. Now, a former Conservative shadow minister has invoked privilege by disclosing details of the British government’s complicity in a torture-by-proxy scheme on the floor of parliament. The Guardian reports:
In a dramatic intervention using the protection of parliamentary privilege, the former shadow home secretary revealed how MI5 and Greater Manchester police effectively sub-contracted the torture of Rangzieb Ahmed to a Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), whose routine use of torture has been widely documented. This is the first time that the information has entered the public domain. Previously it has been suppressed through the process of secret court hearings and, had the Guardian or other media organisations reported it, they would have exposed themselves to the risk of prosecution for contempt of court.
Davis told MPs that although sufficient evidence had been gathered to ensure Ahmed could be prosecuted for serious terrorism offences, he was permitted to fly from Manchester to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in 2006 while under surveillance… Davis said Ahmed was “viciously tortured by the ISI. He [Ahmed] claims among other things, he was beaten with wooden staves, the size of cricket stumps,whipped with a three-foot length of tyre rubber and had three fingernails removed from his left hand. There is a dispute between British intelligence officers as to exactly when his fingernails were removed, but an independent pathologist confirmed it happened during the period when he was in Pakistani custody.”
As Ian Cobain points out in a companion analysis piece, Britain’s turn to torture has a very clear provenance. It comes from fighting “shoulder to shoulder” with the United States. The Bush Administration’s torture philosophy and tools spread on contact through the British intelligence system. With evidence of the Bush Administration’s torture policies mounting, and with some British intelligence agents giving eyewitness accounts of the torture of prisoners in American custody, the Blair Government adopted a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” policy. Its instructions to intelligence agents working with the Americans seem to have turned on shoddy legal advice that misapprehended the gravity of the crime of torture under international law and the formal obligations imposed to stop it.
These instructions took no account of MI5 and MI6 officers’ responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture. Philippe Sands QC, the professor of international law at University College London whose book Torture Team laid bare the origins of the Bush administration’s torture policies, says the instructions fall far short of what is required in international law. Sands points out that article 4 of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a party, criminalises “an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture”, and that the 1998 Rome statute of the international criminal court extends criminal responsibility where military commanders and civilian superiors “should have known” that international crimes were being committed but “failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress their commission”. The meaning of complicity, he adds, is clarified by a 1998 judgment by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Its appeal chamber treated “complicity” as being akin to “aiding and abetting” or “assistance” that could be “physical or in the form of moral support”. A crime could be committed even if the abettor did not take any tangible action, provided the actions “directly and substantially” assisted and where there was “knowledge … that torture is being practised”. According to Sands, the instructions “may have caused British personnel to cross a line into complicity”, and that ministers who approved the policy may also be culpable.
Sands’s analysis is correct–the conduct of the British agents likely made them conspirators or aiders and abettors in the crime of torture under international legal standards. All of which demonstrates the peril of cooperation with the Bush regime, given its criminal policies. But note all the judicial, legal, and parliamentary wheels turning in Britain, all flowing from engagement with the United States. What is happening in the United States itself? To our lasting shame, the answer is: nothing.
More from Scott Horton:
No Comment — November 4, 2013, 5:17 pm
An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath
No Comment — August 12, 2013, 7:55 am
How will the Obama Administration handle Edward Snowden’s case in the long term?
No Comment — July 29, 2013, 11:36 am
Is it possible to simply disband the partisan FISA court?
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Average portion of its yearly household expenditures that a South African family will spend on a funeral:
Neuroscientists were hoping to use rat brain waves to find people buried by earthquakes.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature