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UK Torture Inquiry Farce on Last Legs, While Rendition to “Killing” Remains Uninvestigated

8:36 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor at the UK Guardian are reporting that the widely heralded 2010 announcement of a British government official inquiry into UK torture is facing a boycott by British human rights and attorney groups. The reason is undue secrecy.

[British Prime Minister] Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. “Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret,” he said. “So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.”

This from the UK Guardian… July 14, 2010.

The handwriting was on the wall for some time on this sham inquiry, but the British human rights and lawyer groups kept fighting to make something real out of it. I can understand the impulse to do this, but really the inquiry’s true intentions were telegraphed when Sir Peter Gibson was made its chair, as I noted when the news first broke.

The investigation is being conducted by a panel of three, whose head is the intelligence-connected Sir Peter Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). Many questions have been raised by the appointment of Gibson, and it is startling to think that British human rights groups will accede to the appointment, given Gibson’s likely bias, not to mention his track record in other “judge-led” investigations.

The legal human rights charity group Reprieve describes three fatal flaws embedded within the official rules recently published for the inquiry:

First, the definition of evidence that will remain classified forever is hopelessly overbroad. Set out in Annex A [of the Detainee's Inquiry Protocol - PDF], this effectively includes anything that would in any way breach an “understanding” between the UK and its allies – in other words, anything the Americans would find embarrassing will not be made public…. Given that the essence of British complicity involves working with the US on torture and rendition, the exception to publicity swallows the rule.

Second, there is no meaningful, independent (preferably judicial) review of what should be kept secret… Unlike other inquiries where victims have made serious allegations of torture, the victims will not have meaningful legal representation. Their advisers will be denied access to any documents or hearings deemed secret by the inquiry.

Third, the Inquiry is left toothless due to a lack of powers to compel the attendance of witnesses or the provision of evidence or information from any party or organisation.

Truly, the UK government’s so-called inquiry is being set up as Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith called it, “a whitewash.” According to the Guardian article Shami Chakrabarti, director of the British group Liberty, states the inquiry is “a sham.” “When is an inquiry not an inquiry?” Chakrabarti asked. “When it’s a secret internal review.”

Hiding Murder in the Rendition Program

While the U.S. Department of Justice is finally considering two cases of murder of detainees by the CIA, in general, the Obama administration has an official policy of “not looking back” and non-accountability when it comes to crimes of torture. But it seems likely there are more crimes waiting to be revealed.

Last July, around the time the UK torture inquiry was first proposed, I broke the story that the revelations of UK cooperation with U.S. rendition policies included possible “rendition to killing.”

Like much of what I report, the revelation was not consistent with the accepted narrative of what the U.S. media is allowed to report, so it was also ignored by the supposed alternative blogosphere, who mainly grubs after the crumbs that are begrudgingly reported by Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or second-tier establishment-organs-cum-alternative-press like Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, or Salon.com. The mainstream press reports what government officials tell them, while the “alternative” press and bloggers report what academic and governmental dissidents say. Rarely is any real investigative work done.

But this revelation was based on hard documentation, as reported in my July 14, 2010 article.

A series of documents released on July 14 in the UK Binyam Mohamed civil case, Al Rawi and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Others, have produced a series of explosive revelations, reported in Britain and as yet unknown here in the U.S….

Now, one of the most incendiary revelations in the documents concerns instructions given to MI6 Special Intelligence Service (SIS) over detention operations. According to Chapter 32 of MI6′s general procedural manual, “Detainees and Detention Operations”, “the following sensitivities arise” (PDF – bold emphasis added):

a. the geographical destination of the target. Where will she or he be held? Under whose jurisdiction? Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?

b. what treatment regime(s) for the detainees can be expected?

c. what is the legal basis for the detention?

d. what is the role of any liaison partner who might be involved?

The “objective” of “killing” points to the existence of extrajudicial murders carried out by the intelligence services. It’s not clear if the killings are by UK or liaison — including United States — forces. “Liaison partners” refers to instances of operational cooperation with non-UK intelligence agencies.

I have since discovered that BBC reported the same revelations about “killing” on July 15, so at least it was reported in the British press, where it made some stir, the BBC labeling as “stark” the paragraph on about “killing” as “the objective of the operation.” Still, no U.S. news outlet picked up on this.

This is not the first time that unheralded killings of detainees has appeared in an otherwise unnoticed document. Last December I reported on a discussion of Guantanamo health protocols at a February 19, 2002 meeting of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, where officials were told that a “number of the detainees have died of the wounds that they arrived with.”

This is not as impossible or incredible as it may sound. We know that Guantanamo, like other DoD and CIA sites had their share of “ghost prisoners,” i.e., prisoners whose existence was never reported to the International Red Cross or anyone else. Some of these disappeared forever. We don’t know how many. (Maybe a real torture inquiry would shed some light on this.) Indeed, Manadel al-Jamadi, the subject of one of John Durham’s recently announced criminal investigations, was such a ghost prisoner. And he, too, ended up dead, murdered.

Nor are such renditions and ghost prisoners a recent phenomenon. Consider the case of a Bulgarian political activist Dmitrov (aka “Kelly”) who was rendered to U.S. Fort Clayton in Panama in the early 1950s, where, according to declassified CIA documents, he became a victim of the CIA’s Project Artichoke mind control program. The full story was reported by H.P. Albarelli and myself in a Truthout article last year.

The United States, Great Britain and their partners in torture and rendition believe they are above the law, and that they can game the system forever. Perhaps they are right, and we have lost the battle before it was ever really engaged. I refuse to believe this is so. I can’t believe that I am alone in wanting justice, and seeking a radical change in the configuration of forces that control this planet, which are currently organized in the name of power and oppression, for the benefit of an economic elite, and not around justice, social and economic equality, and a rational, humane world order based on cooperation and mutual respect for all nations and all individuals.

We desperately need a real, international inquiry into the crimes of torture, rendition, and aggressive war. But there is no political force currently operative that has the power and influence to make this happen, as the pending collapse of the UK torture inquiry enterprise demonstrates. And that is truly the dilemma of our times.

While Texas Dismisses Torture Charges Against James Mitchell, Other Investigations Under Political Pressures

6:16 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Danny Robbins at Associated Press reported last Friday that the Texas State Board of Examiners dismissed a licensing complaint filed by a Texas psychologist against former SERE psychologist James Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of “violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists‘ Licensing Act and the Board‘s Rules of Practice” (PDF). Specifically, the complaint cited Mitchell’s role in the design and implementation of a torture program, “ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime‘s safety and—assuming its safety—its effectiveness,” as well as his actual participation in the torture of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah.

The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and was signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies were also signatories to the complaint. Grigg and Margulies have also represented Guantanamo prisoners before the government.

According to the AP story, “The board said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mitchell violated its rules,” despite the fact that “thousands of pages of evidence, including sworn testimony, tying Mitchell to practices that violate professional ethics” were presented to the board. It is not known if Mitchell utilized in his board defense any of the $5 million “indemnity” defense fund set up by the CIA for use in legal defense for Michell and his CIA contractor partner, Bruce Jessen.

The hearing was held on February 10. Proceedings were held in secret session, and only Mitchell and his representative were present before the three board members. No complainants were at the hearing. Two days later, the board issued its finding of dismissal. Strangely, no reports of the Texas board decision surfaced for another two weeks.

As AP notes, the Mitchell decision follows the dismissal of other cases brought before boards in New York, Ohio, and Louisiana, concerning other military psychologists, Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James. Late last year, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the New York ACLU filed asked a New York court “to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.”

Worldwide Actions to Hold the Torturers Accountable

The decision of the Texas state board also comes in the context of a number of legal actions worldwide to bring the Bush-era torturers to justice. Lawyers and international human rights activists and organizations continue to press for investigations and prosecutions of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and other “high-value” detainees held in CIA black site prisons around the world, or sent to foreign countries for torture as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.

Most recently, the Spanish National Court announced it had the competent standing to proceed with the investigations into the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien, since he had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. Center for Constitutional Rights said in regards to the decision:

Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity.

Meanwhile, in Poland, where the U.S. constructed one of the CIA black site prisons, authorities were stymied in their efforts to secure U.S. cooperation into their country’s investigation into the CIA activities at the black site near the Szymany air base in northern Poland. The Obama administration cited an international Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, whereby “a country has the right to refuse to provide legal assistance if the execution of the request would encroach on this country’s security or another interest of this country.” Requests for an investigation were forwarded by legal represenatives of former CIA prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

In a direct rebuff to the United States, a Polish state prosecutor last January became “the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland.” Zubaydah is being represented by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, who is working with the British human rights charities Interights and Reprieve, in addition to U.S. lawyers Joseph Margulies and Brent Mickum. Al-Nashiri was recognized as a “victim” of torture by Polish authorities last fall.

In Lithuania, where other black site prisons also operated, presumably near Vilnius, state authorities meanwhile have dropped investigations into torture, rendition and CIA activities. After initial support for an investigation of the prisons — one of them constructed at a former horse riding club — Prosecutor Darius Valys announced in January that the investigation was over. According to a report by Reprieve, Valys admitted “that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’” but “oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment.” In addition, the Lithuanian prosecutor made a pro forma nod to expired statutes of limitation, and also a bizarre charge that NGO “lack of transparency” had harmed the investigation.

Attorney Joseph Margulies replied, “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”

UK State Investigation Blasted by Human Rights Groups

A British government investigation into UK complicity with U.S. torture programs, announced last July after revelations in the UK court case on Binyam Mohamed, has met criticism from almost the beginning. In particular, the decision to have Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), lead the investigation was questioned from the very start.

At this point, a number of British NGOs are so concerned that the inquiry, according to the UK Guardian,  “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” that they are considering boycotting the proceedings. Nine of the NGOs – Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — have written a letter to Gibson expressing their concerns.

The letter is substantive and detailed, and includes discussion of whether the inquiry as currently constituted can meet Article 3 (prohibition against torture) requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) regarding promptness, independence, and thoroughness. In addition, the NGO signatories note the insufficiency of public scrutiny and victim participation, the lack of effective remedy and redress for victims, secrecy invoked over the material to be presented, and “the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.”

Another outstanding issue facing the inquiry concerns the last British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on the torture inquiry, due to begin this coming week, Aamer “is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.” Aamer is the only British torture prisoner to directly claim “that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Worthington notes that the British inquiry “cannot legitimately begin while he is still held,” as Aamer is a crucial witness as to UK participation, “whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”

What Is to Be Done?

It is perhaps unavoidable that the efforts to establish investigations and promote accountability have been led by attorneys and human rights activists (most of them attorneys, too, by the way). As a result, the movement for accountability appears to rise and fall based on the legal decisions of governments, administrative boards, military commissions, and non-U.S. governmental prosecutors. While these legal actions are necessary, and the lawyers and NGO personnel involved deserve our thanks, at the same time the anti-torture movement suffers from an over-reliance on legalism at the expense of social struggle to end the use of torture.

On the other end of the spectrum, groups that promote local activism to bring justice to torture victims or accountability to war criminals like John Yoo, tend to get lost in overly parochial approaches, which when they fail, as in the case of the defeat of a Berkeley, California measure to endorse resettling cleared Guantanamo detainees in that city, promote demoralization and/or endless rounds of campaigning, with little or no progress. While such activists also deserve praise for their efforts, behind the scenes they too express frustration over what course of action might bring greater success.

The underlying problem is political, and lies in a refusal to take on the legitimacy of the so-called “war on terror,” which the U.S. uses as an excuse for the extension of its power abroad in support of corporations that seek to extend their economic influence and power, and which are interpenetrated with the U.S. military and intelligence establishment in that effort. It is apposite to notice, too, the efforts of the government to interdict and obstruct the work of anti-government critics, as the recent revelations surrounding FBI abuse and HBGary make abundantly clear.

In addition, effective action means taking on the misleadership and perfidy of both political parties, both Democratic and Republican. The Obama administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes, and its implication in ongoing war crimes (abuse of prisoners, assassination, use of drones) has not seriously been challenged by the liberal establishment.

The issue of U.S. or British torture is not really separable from issues of war abroad and domestic crackdown on civil liberties at home. Nor is it separable from the economic policies of the United States, which under both political parties has favored the enrichment of a privileged class over the immiseration of large portions of the population.

Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current ruling elites than the use of torture and assassination. The fight against torture must mean a full political assault against the legitimacy of a state apparatus and its defenders, who use such horrific means as torture as a bulwark against those who they fear challenge their rule and privileges. It must also involve the full use of the social power of civil society (unions, churches, professional organizations), which thus far have remained wedded to leaderships that will not challenge the electoral mastery of a morally and politically bankrupt two-party system.

UK Guardian Releases British Torture Tape

7:08 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The UK Guardian yesterday released a videotape of a 2007 interrogation of a suspected Iraqi insurgent, one of 1,253 tapes made by interrogators at a secret British military center near Basra, run by the Joint Forces Interrogation Team (JFIT). The release came only days before the U.S. Justice Department investigation into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of the torture of three high-value detainees at secret black site prisons was closed, with no charges brought. The news about torture was not a complete surprise as revelations last month showed torture techniques were taught to British interrogators in secret training manuals.

The release of the British torture tapes was the result of a lawsuit brought before the British high court by 220 former Iraqi prisoners. The Guardian warns that the video embedded here “contains material that viewers may find disturbing.” Having watched it, I can vouch it is difficult material to watch. Amazingly, the U.S. press, and much of the British press, have totally ignored this material. The truth is going to be difficult to stomach, but this is a taste of what might have occurred had U.S. tapes found their way to public viewing.

One difference between the tape here and the tapes the CIA destroyed (if in fact they were all destroyed), is that the tape here is not of waterboarding or any of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”, but of what the British call “harshing” — techniques that appear to be similar to the U.S. Army Field Manual’s “Fear Up,” i.e., the induction of fear into the prisoner. As I noted in an article that examined the latest (2006) version of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation, in the previous version of the AFM (FM 34-52), published in 1992, the use of fear-based techniques was divided into Fear Up Harsh and Fear Up Mild. A strong warning was issued noting the use of Fear Up “has the greatest potential to violate the law of war.” In the current version of the AFM, the cautionary language is weakened, while the definition of Fear Up has changed as well.   . . . Read the rest of this entry →

U.S. Legal Actions, UK Inquiry: Noose Tightens on Torture Criminals

10:05 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Before taking up the question of the UK torture inquiry, announced the other day, we should consider other important developments on the anti-torture front today.

Omar Khadr, captured as a child, abused, mistreated and tortured for years at Guantanamo, has fired his military attorneys — most likely because he seeks some method to exert control over his situation. God knows how we would respond if placed in his situation.

Meanwhile, Daniel Shulman at Mother Jones has posted an article describing two new actions taken to strip licensure from two former Guantanamo psychologists, Major John Leso and retired Colonel Larry James. James is now dean of the professional psychology program at Wright State University in Ohio, and was the subject of a complaint against him in Louisiana, which was dismissed by the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and subsequently brought to the Louisiana Court of Appeal. Leso is the infamous "Maj. L" in the interrogation log released by Time Magazine some years ago in the torture case of Mohammed Al-Qahtani.

Both Leso and James were members of the Behavioral Science Consultant Team, or BSCT, at Guantanamo. Indeed, James was in charge of the BSCT while he was there. The complaint against Leso, filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability, can be viewed here. The James filing — the work of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic — is available in PDF format.

These filings were separate from yet another complaint, this one filed with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, against James Mitchell, one of the principals for CIA torture contractors Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, who has also been identified as one of the interrogators involved in reverse-engineering SERE techniques for the interrogation-cum-torture experiments made upon Abu Zubaydah in the spring and summer of 2002. (PDF link to full document here.)

These actions have been taken in the context of the refusal of the Obama administration to undertake the necessary criminal investigations against the work of torturers under governmental employ during the Bush/Cheney era. While there is a secret investigation supposedly underway in the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, congressional oversight and action on the subject of interrogations has been minimal. While the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation of the spread of SERE-style torture in the military, the committee refuses to release a less-redacted version of their report, and moreover, issued their findings without recommendations. Even worse, they allowed SERE psychologists, like James Mitchell, to remain in charge of Special Operations battlefield interrogations and detention.

Keeping the lid on the torture scandal is the SOP of the Obama administration lately. According to a July 2 report by Mike Scarcella at The Blog of Legal Times, the Holder Justice Department has filed hundreds of papers in court arguing against an ACLU suit "that blacked-out passages in the [Office of Professional Responsibility] report [on the Office of Legal Counsel torture memos] should remain confidential in the interest of national security and the privacy of government lawyers."

It is in the context over this war over information and accountability that we must look across the Atlantic to see what is unfolding in the United Kingdom, where the new British administration of Prime Minister David Cameron (with coalition partner Nick Clegg) announced that there would be a "judge-led investigation" of the complicity of UK intelligence personnel in the torture of detainees in the U.S.-led rampage that incarcerated an untold number of prisoners, rendered them to countries that would torture, or sent them into CIA secret prisons. These crimes were committed in part to coerce "intelligence" and confessions that would link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, the better to drum up fake evidence to justify an unprovoked attack upon Iraq.

UK Torture Inquiry Questions

The announcement of the UK inquiry has been met with a mostly uncritical positive reception in the U.S. And who can blame the American human rights, anti-torture and civil liberties movement? They’ve had to put up with the "don’t look back" policy of President Obama, not to mention the latter’s embrace of Bush-era positions on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, indefinite detention, support for the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M, governmental secrecy, and even this administration’s own operation of black site prisons (run now by JSOC, not, apparently, the CIA).

A press release by the ACLU captured the general attitude of U.S. opponents of the Pentagon/CIA torture program:

"An investigation into the role of government personnel in the abuse and torture of prisoners is exactly what the Obama administration should be initiating. And while we welcome Prime Minister Cameron’s commitment to ensuring that torture survivors are acknowledged and compensated, this announcement also serves as a reminder of how little has been done here in the United States to reckon with the abuses of the last nine years," said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director.

While the sentiment is understandable (see a similar statement by Tom Parker at Amnesty International), even though we dearly need an investigation, it is not certain that the UK inquiry is exactly what the doctor ordered. The British press and human rights agencies, while approving of Cameron/Clegg’s decision to make good on their campaign promise and initiate an investigation into UK intelligence services complicity with torture, are dubious about the details of how the investigation will proceed.

For one thing, proceedings will be held in secret. While the three-person investigating panel will have ample access to UK documents, they will not be allowed to study U.S. documents. Moreover, the inquiry cannot begin until all current criminal and civil complaints are settled. This led U.S. blogger-commentator Marcy Wheeler to wonder if the inquiry weren’t meant in part to limit the disclosures that could still surface if the cases now outstanding were adjudicated fully.

The investigation panel is supposed to include Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the civil service commissioners, and retired journalist Peter Riddell. No less a UK government critic than Craig Murray finds these two to be independent-minded and fair (though some question their experience in these matters). But Murray — and as we’ll see, many others — is concerned about the ex-judge Sir Peter Gibson, named to head the investigation.

The 76-year-old Gibson is an odd choice, especially, as John Ware at BBC Panorama put it, "for an inquiry deemed to be fully independent." He is closely linked to intelligence circles, as he is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). In the past, Gibson has refused to say how many instances of bugging have taken place, because it would “assist those hostile to the UK”. There has also been some criticism regarding Gibson’s propensity for secrecy.

Peter Oborne at the UK Daily Mail has more to say about Gibson and "judge-led" "independent inquiries:

Sir Peter is a thoroughly acceptable figure to British spies because he has been Commissioner of the Intelligence Services since 2006, and was reappointed only last year.

Most of his work is carried out away from the public eye, but I have heard no reports of Sir Peter asking probing questions of MI5 and MI6 bosses over the past few years, despite the publication of a mass of troubling material during that period.

This is not the first time Gibson has been asked to head a secretive investigation, as he also led the inquiry into the 1998 IRA Omagh bombing, after a BBC report that GCHQ withheld info from the police that could have led to an interdiction of the bombers. The report itself was, of course, kept secret, but there were many questions about how Gibson conducted the affair. According to John Ware:

Sir Peter’s report, published in January 2009, angered relatives of Omagh’s victims and survivors when it focused only on whether the Omagh bombing could have been stopped. He concluded it could not have been.

Sir Peter later acknowledged he "deliberately did not" investigate why intercepts that he found had been shared between GCHQ and Special Branch were not also shared with the CID.

He told MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) that he had not seen it as part of his remit to "go into questions like why certain things were done or not done".

An mixture of hopefulness and ominous foreboding emanates from British anti-torture human rights groups. Addressing worries that the inquiry will focus on lower-level interrogators and let government officials like former Prime Minister Tony Blair off the hook, London director of Human Rights Watch said, "To be credible and to get to the bottom of what went wrong, any inquiry must be as public as possible, examine all cases of alleged complicity that are brought to its attention and examine the degree to which decisions by UK ministers and officials contributed to abuse."

The British human rights group, Reprieve, who like the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, sponsors many attorneys currently defending Guantanamo prisoners, noted a number of concerns about the proposed inquiry. Top on the list of concerns is the pervasive secrecy surrounding the investigation. Not only will they be held in secret, but only the Prime Minister can decide what will be made public in the proceedings or final report. "Under the Government’s plan," Reprieve reports, "there is no formal mechanism for civil participation — so Reprieve and other civil organisation[s] will not be allowed access to documents and proceedings."

Another outstanding demand is that the government produce the old, secret official policy that governed UK intelligence agents. The new policy, itself recently published, still allows unnamed "ministers" the ability to approve "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment": "…a wide spectrum of conduct and different considerations and legal principles may apply depending on the circumstances and facts of each case." What, Reprieve asks, were in the old rules, if these are the new rules? Any real inquiry would make this public.

What Now?

The no-accountability policy of the Obama administration has proven bankrupt, and recent legal actions taken against Leso, James, and Mitchell are laudable and hopefully will provide a decent chill among those health care providers who serviced (or still serve) the CIA and Pentagon torture and human experimentation programs. The UK inquiry certainly is a response to a societal repulsion in Great Britain against crimes against humanity, and perhaps, at a remove, to the widespread hatred of Britain’s participation in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it would be naive to believe that the British government, which sees itself as the best ally of the U.S. intelligence services, will open itself up to the kind of scrutiny needed — not without a fight. To agree to the form in which the investigation is now proposed threatens to direct the fight for accountability and justice into a blind alley. As Peter Oborne reminds us, we should remember that other "judge-led" inquiry/cover-up in 2003, when "Lord Hutton’s investigation into the death of government scientist David Kelly… failed to ask the right questions, while reaching conclusions that flew in the face of evidence."

In addition, instead of sparking a renewed bid for a real investigation in the U.S., which is the fond hope of many anti-torture activists, a limited hang-out in the UK will only stifle the movement for accountability in the U.S., as enthusiasm for an open inquiry and prosecutions of high government officials is buried by demoralization and a feeling of futility.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Activists can support the moves by Britain to have an investigation into Britain’s role in torture, while demanding that it be a real investigation, with open, televised hearings (as much as is feasible), the inclusion of civil organizations, such as Reprieve, and a published protocol that includes a programmatic insistence that all lines of evidence will be followed, no matter how high up the governmental ladder such inquiry leads, and no matter what other countries’ crimes may also be implicated. One could start by refusing to accept the appointment of Peter Gibson as head of the investigating panel.

Those who sponsored, support, and defend the torture and rendition programs of the past ten years must feel the noose of real justice tightening ever further around them, and they will fight with all their might and subterfuge to protect themselves and the monopoly of state violence and terror they administer. We must take this opportunity and push even harder to have a real investigation, one that will truly bring justice, and a giant step toward the complete abolition of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment of prisoners everywhere. That was the program of the European and American Enlightenment, and over 200 years later, it must be our program, too.

UK Foreign Office Secret Opinion: It’s OK to Gather Evidence Through Torture

9:03 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Craig Murray, the UK’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has posted at his blog copies he received of telegrams he obtained via Freedom of Information Act. As part of his official duties as ambassador, he had sent these telegrams to the Labor government of Tony Blair in 2003, describing the use of torture in the production of UK intelligence. As Murray reminds us, he was "smeared and sacked" for daring "to apply simply the most basic of humane standards."

Since he was literally there — he wrote these telegrams — Murray can fill in the redacted sections with what he knows he wrote. He explains that these sections "detail British ministers’ receipt of the torture intelligence from the CIA, and point out that the purpose of the CIA intelligence is consistently to paint a false picture, exaggerating the strength of al-Qaida in Central Asia."

Once extremely top secret, these telegrams prove, Murray says, UK complicity in torture. I’d add they prove the same thing about the U.S. government.

The most amazing new piece of evidence is a March 13, 2003 memo by UK Foreign Office Legal Adviser Michael Wood that it was perfectly okay for the government "to receive or possess information under torture." Cynically, Wood agrees that the evidence so derived would not be admissible in court, but there is no treaty obligation in the Convention Against Torture against gathering such information. The twisted nature of this ruling, made in secret, is the equal to anything produced by Yoo, Bybee or Bradbury.

Reproduced below is the text of one of mostly unredacted telegrams. The others can be downloaded here, here and here (PDFs). The last of the links here contains the Wood memo.

Redacted.
Redacted.
Manuscript Note: Matthew Kidd, Redacted
Grateful for views from both Redacted and Legal Advisers.
Wm Ehrman

Fm Tashkent
To Routine FCO
TELNO Misc 01
Of 220903 January 03
INFO ROUTINE UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA, UKDEL VIENNA

FOR WILLIAM EHRMAN

Your relno 323

RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE PROBABLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

1. Thank you for TUR. I apologise for not findng you at the Leadership Conference, but I had decided to drop this. What seemed to be a major concern seemed not a problem to others, and this caused me some self-doubt.

2. However I see that the Economist of 11 to 17 January devoted its front cover, a full page editorial and four whole pages of article to precisely the question I had raised. Reading a newspaper on the flight back here 12 January, I was astonished to find two pages of the Sunday Mail devoted to exactly the same concerns. Back in Tashkent, I find Human Rights Watch urging the US government not to extradite Uzbek detainees from Afghanistan back to Uzbekistan on the same grounds. All of which emboldens me to think I am in good company in my concern. These stories all quote US sources as indicating that the CIA is accepting intelligence obtained under torture by "allied" governments. As I already explained, I too believe that to be most probably true here.

3. Redacted. You accept that torture of detainees in Uzbekistan is widespread. Redacted.

4. Redacted. I can give you mounds of evidence on torture by the Uzbek security services, and I have et victims and their families. I have seen with my own eyes a respected elder break down in court as he recounted how his sons were tortured in front of him as he was urged to confess to links – I have no doubt entirely spurious – with Bin Laden. Redacted.

5. Redacted.

6. I am worried about the legal position. I am not sure that a wilful blindness to how material is obtained would be found a valid defence in law to the accusation of having received material obtained under torture. My understanding is that receiving such material would be both a crime in UK domestic law and contrary to international law. Is this true? I would like a direct answer on this.

7. Redacted.

8. The methods of the Uzbek intelligence services are completely beyond the pale. Torture including pulling out of fingernails, electrocution through genitals, rape of dependants, immersion in boiling liquid – is becoming common, and I weigh those words very carefully. Redacted.

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Single Copies
DG DEFINT 1

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Kudos to Ambassador Murray for standing up against obloquy all these years, and persevering to bring us the truth. The latter is a slim commodity in the United States, where the U.S. Congress, under Democratic Party leadership, refuses to implement the needed investigations of the torture activities of this country, and of the decisions that led to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they kowtow to the President’s "don’t look back" policy, which only ensures that in the present the forces that dragged this country into war and barbarity will have free play to continue to do so.