Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Under Oath, MI5 Officer Reveals Official British Torture Program

The UK Guardian, which has been right on top of the Binyam Mohamed drama unfolding in the British courts, delivered another bombshell article this morning in London. "Whitehall devised torture policy for terror detainees," the headline reads, "MI5 interrogations in Pakistan agreed by lawyers and government."

The British High Court resumed their hearing of Binyam's request for documents to prove his torture, as part of the legal proceedings against him at Guantanamo. Previously, the British judges had ruled that what they called "powerful evidence" suppressed relating to the torture of Mohamed by the U.S. and their proxy torturers in Morocco, where Mohamed had been sent as part of the Bush Administration's policy of "extraordinary rendition." The judges then revealed that they had been told by the British Foreign Minister, David Miliband, that the requested documents could not be released, or U.S.-UK intelligence relations would be affected.

From the article:
Miliband's position in the affair came under renewed attack yesterday after it emerged that his officials solicited a letter from the US state department to back up his claim that if the evidence was disclosed, Washington might stop sharing intelligence with Britain....

Evidence heard by the court in-camera – once the public and the media had been excluded – resulted in Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, asking the attorney general, Lady Scotland, to investigate "possible criminal wrongdoing" by both American and British security and intelligence officers.
And what was that wrongdoing. According to an MI5 officer testifying anonymously before the British court, and named only "Witness B". The Guardian reports that:
A number of British terrorism suspects who have been detained without trial in Pakistan say they were tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by MI5. In some cases their accusations are supported by medical evidence.
One of those suspects was Binyam Mohamed, who awaits a return from Guantanamo to Britain, terribly weakened by a months-long hunger strike. Witness B had interrogated Mr. Mohamed in Karachi, and in cross-examination by the court, the MI5 officer admitted that the prisoner had looked in "an extremely vulnerable position." The witness also allowed that he told Mohamed that he'd "get more lenient treatment if he cooperated."

The article continues:
Asked then whether the transfer concerned him, Witness B replied: "I was aware that the general question of interviewing detainees had been discussed at length by security service management legal advisers and government, and I acted in this case, as in others, under the strong impression that it was considered to be proper and lawful." He denied that he had threatened Mohamed and said the prisoner appeared well enough to be questioned.

Mohamed was eventually able to tell lawyers that before being questioned by MI5 he had been hung from leather straps, beaten and threatened with a firearm by Pakistani intelligence officers. After the meeting with MI5 he was "rendered" to Morocco where he endured 18 months of even more brutal torture, including having his genitals slashed with a scalpel. Some of the questions put to him under torture in Morocco were based on information passed by MI5 to the US.

The Guardian has learned from other sources that the interrogation policy was directed at a high level within Whitehall and that it has been further developed since Mohamed's detention in Pakistan. Evidence of this might emerge from 42 undisclosed US documents seen by the high court and sent to the MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee (ISC).
As the details of the gory torture program leak out, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Obama administration's refusal to declassify relevant documents in Binyam's case amounts to a terrible cover-up of very serious war crimes. No matter what you think or want to think about Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and the rest of this new Democratic administration, they are treading very close to being implicated in war crimes. They should know this information will leak out, and to move now will save the U.S. credibility, and their own administration serious embarrassment or worse.

What is happening in Britain right now is sure to spill over to U.S. politics eventually, especially when the questions start to be "What did he know, and when did he know it":
In a letter to the committee, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, says: "The ISC would want to know whether the intelligence services brought the issue of Mr Mohamed's abuse to the attention of the prime minister (then Mr Blair) – and, if not, why not." He said if the evidence had been brought to Blair's attention, "the ISC would want to know what, if anything, was done about it. If nothing was done, that would raise serious questions about the respect that the UK government has for its obligations under the convention against torture."
We must demand that the U.S. release all documents in the Binyam case immediately. The British government, too, must release what documentation they are holding in the Binyam Mohamed case. The time to come clean is now.

H/T Trudy Bond


skdadl said...

Thanks very much for this, Valtin -- a very fine summary of where things have got in London, and how connected we all are by the torture regime and what it has done to so many national governments.

Of the (at least) eight cases we know of where Canadian intelligence and foreign affairs officers played some role in interrogations performed by a second or third country, one is very like Binyam Mohamed's in that the detained man, Abdullah Khadr (an older brother of Omar), appears to have been picked up in Pakistan by the ISI at the behest of "an American intelligence agency." (See the wiki article.) He was held and interrogated in Pakistan for over a year, with input from both U.S. and Canadian agencies; we know these things because a memo describing the "bounty" offered for him by the U.S. was accidentally released in Canada, then suppressed, and then released again on a judge's order. He was returned to Canada after a year's detention but faces an extradition request from the U.S., an arrangement that seems to be the result of collusion between Canada and the U.S.

I'm watching the UK High Court judges with interest and gratitude, given that their strong statements about Miliband's equivocations may help to stiffen a few spines over here as well.

Thank you for all you do.

Dr Zen said...

We need these people to go to jail. I mean, right up to Blair. And Milliband's career seriously needs to be over, at the very least.

It makes you feel sick to the stomach that these people claim to be our representatives, so that we are complicit too. We torture. That's a grim truth about us.

Nell said...

It now appears possible that Binyam Mohamed will be returned to Britain as early as Monday, Feb. 23rd.

Will this end Mohamed's suit for these documents -- that is, since he will no longer be defending himself in a military court case, they become unnecessary?

Bizarre side effect of an otherwise happy event, if so.

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