Socialist Worker

Lawyers boycott torture whitewash

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2264

The government’s latest attempts to cover up torture are in crisis.

Human rights groups and lawyers representing torture victims are boycotting the judicial inquiry into torture by the British security and intelligence agencies.

David Cameron last year announced a full-scale and judge-led inquiry into MI5 and MI6 torture.

But lawyers representing Britons detained in Guantanamo Bay, and ten charities, have written to the inquiry saying they cannot co-operate with it.

They are opposed to evidence being heard largely in secret and the government deciding what to publish.

The government has also refused to allow victims to question, or even identify, witnesses from the intelligence agencies.

Tim Cooke-Hurle is an investigator for the human rights group Reprieve.

He said, “By ignoring the concerns of torture victims and major human rights organisations the government risks a pointless whitewash.”

The whitewash in question is headed by Sir Peter Gibson, a 76-year old retired judge. Gibson was Intelligence Services Commissioner, overseeing MI5 and MI6.

It was during his time as commissioner that many of the allegations about British complicity in torture came to light.

Gibson oversaw the ministerial authorisations that sanctioned British involvement in torture. He should be giving evidence to the inquiry, not running it.

The previous Labour government repeatedly lied and used the courts to prevent evidence of its complicity in torture coming to light.

Now the Tories are trying to cover up the fact that the last Labour government presided over torture.

Rules of engagement

MI6’s general procedural manual is called “Detainees and Detention Operations”.

Chapter 32 advises officers of “particular sensitivities” to consider before becoming directly involved in an operation to detain a terrorism suspect.

One is whether “detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation”.

The Foreign Office decided in January 2002 that the “extraordinary rendition” of British citizens from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay was its “preferred option”.

The Labour government changed the timings of these guidelines so that rendition would not take place until British Intelligence officers had the first go at interrogating suspects.

Overseas intelligence agencies known to routinely use torture would be asked to detain an individual. A list of questions would be given to them and British intelligence officials would later visit the detainee.

MI5 and MI6 officers were able to make use of torture while following official government policy to the letter.

A long, shameful history

  • Binyam Mohamed was tortured for 18 months, while MI5 agents fed questions to his torturers. His penis was cut open with a scalpel.
  • Zeeshan Siddiqui was repeatedly beaten, chained, injected with drugs and threatened with sexual abuse. British intelligence officers interviewed him while all this was going on.
  • Salahuddin Amin, while being tortured by Pakistani intelligence (ISI), met British intelligence officers six times. If ISI felt his answers to the British agents were unsatisfactory, he was told that he had embarrassed them “in front of our friends” and tortured again.
  • Rangzieb Ahmed’s fingernails were pulled out during torture. British intelligence accepts this, but deny it was during his questioning in Pakistan while they also questioned him.

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Article information

Tue 9 Aug 2011, 18:01 BST
Issue No. 2264
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