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Secret documents reveal Labour government's role in torture of UK citizens

Secret documents reveal Labour government's role in torture of UK citizens

Categories: Latest News

Thursday July 15 2010

  Former Guantanamo Bay detainees can proceed with lawsuits in which they accuse Britain of complicity in torture overseas, according to a High Court ruling yesterday. 

The government had attempted to ask the judge to direct the six men to halt their lawsuits and instead enter into talks to reach an out of court settlement.

The Guardian reports that the full extent of the previous Labour government’s involvement in the torture and illegal abduction of British citizens following the attacks of September 11, 2001 have been ‘spelled out in stark detail with the disclosure during high court proceedings of a mass of highly classified documents.’

The paper adds:

‘Among the most damning documents are a series of interrogation reports from MI5 officers that betray their disregard for the suffering of a British resident whom they were questioning at a US airbase in Afghanistan. The documents also show that the officers were content to see the mistreatment continue.

‘One of the most startling documents is chapter 32 of MI6’s general procedural manual, entitled “Detainees and Detention Operations”, which advises officers that among the “particular sensitivities” they need to consider before becoming directly involved in an operation to detain a terrorism suspect is the question of whether “detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation”.

‘Other disclosed documents show how:

• The Foreign Office decided in January 2002 that the transfer of British citizens from Afghanistan to Guantánamo was its “preferred option”.

• Jack Straw asked for that rendition to be delayed until MI5 had been able to interrogate those citizens.

• Downing Street was said to have overruled FO attempts to provide a British citizen detained in Zambia with consular support in an attempt to prevent his return to the UK, with the result that he too was “rendered” to Guantánamo.’

The documents have come to light as part of a lawsuit mounted by six men who allege that British security forces were complicit in their detention. The government has thus far identified ‘up to 500,000 documents that may be relevant’ to the proceedings, and has enlisted 60 lawyers to scrutinise them – a process that ‘could take until the end of the decade’ according to the government. So far the government has ‘failed to hand over many of the documents the men’s lawyers have asked for’, disclosing only 900 documents to date.

It has emerged that MI5 officers were aware of the manner in which Omar Deghayes, a Libyan born British resident held at the US air base at Bagram in 2002 before being sent to Guantanamo Bay, was being mistreated. But, the Guardian notes: ‘Their only emotional reaction to his plight appears to have been disgust at his physical condition. Considering him to be insufficiently forthcoming, they decided to abandon him to further treatment at US hands.’

Documents have also revealed that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office thwarted attempts by the Foreign Office ‘to obtain a degree of protection for British citizens.’

Accusing the security services of being more concerned about reputation than the plight of prisoners, Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve, says:

‘Legal guidance from July 2006 governing our liaison with foreign intelligence services suggests that if agents think that a prisoner will be tortured as a result of our co-operation, they “will consider applying caveats or seeking prior assurances before acting”. Consider caveats and assurances, mind, rather than pointing out torture is a crime against humanity that we – in Britain – are duty bound to expose and prosecute.

‘”If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees,” the agents were advised, “the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact that the agency is seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed.” Would it not be appropriate perhaps to consider first the “adverse effects” on the person in the torture chamber? Perhaps the most morally reprehensible aspect of the document is that nowhere in 45 numbered paragraphs did the unfortunate victim rate a mention.

‘Rather, agents were admonished, airing such dirty laundry could result in “further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism” as well as “damage to the reputation of the agencies”. It is self-evidently true that if you travel the world committing crimes you are going to provoke people, and damage your reputation. When the truth began to leak out about the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, it set the cause of democracy back by a generation.’


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