Press headlines have screamed about “£1 million from British taxpayers to an Isis fighter”. Jamal al-Harith, who has allegedly carried out a suicide bombing near Mosul in Iraq, had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and, after his release, received some compensation.
The scandal is not that Harith may have received some money. The scandal is Guantanamo and the much wider crimes of invasion, occupation, torture, imprisonment and murder.
Harith was born Ronald Fiddler in Manchester in 1966. In his 20s he converted to Islam and travelled widely in Muslim-majority countries.
He was found in a Taliban jail in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2001
Accused of being a British spy, he was taken to the torture site at Bagram Airfield, the largest US military base in Afghanistan. Harith was held separately from the 300 other detainees. After eleven days of interrogation, he was flown to GuantanamoBay in the US-held part of Cuba and then released two years later.
Rather than rail against the injustice Harith suffered, the press launched an attack on him this week.
In response, a statement on behalf of the family said they believed the £1 million compensation figure referred to a group settlement made to four former detainees, including Harith, and included their costs.
A lawyer for his family said, “Whatever he may or may not have done since Guantanamo, they believe he was utterly changed by the physical and mental cruelty and the inhuman treatment he endured for two years at Guantanamo.
“On his return he suffered recurrent nightmares. While sleeping he would cry out, ‘Don’t hurt me’.”
His sister Shiblee Begum said, “I think Guantanamo Bay made him an extremist. When he came back he wasn’t sleeping at all for several years. Sleep deprivation was one of the methods they used on him. It turned him into a bad person.
Rahim Ali added that during his brother-in-law’s incarceration in Cuba, Harith had been “interrogated”, “tortured” and “injected with stuff”. He said that if anything would have radicalised him, it would have been Guantanamo Bay because “torturing someone doesn't exactly make you their best friend”.
The central case that led to the “£1 million payout” concerned Binyam Mohamed.
He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. After being interrogated by an MI5 agent there, he was secretly “rendered” to Morocco on a CIA plane.
In Morocco his captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis.
After 18 months he was transferred to a secret prison run by the CIA in Afghanistan.
Binyam has described the Afghan secret prison. “It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time.
“They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. At one point I was chained to rails for a fortnight.
“Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming.”
His interrogators asked him questions about his life in London—details provided by British intelligence. They provided 70 questions to his interrogators.
He was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
During a civil case against the government. Judge Lord Neuberger said some MI5 officers had been less than frank about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, and had a “dubious record”.
Then Labour home secretary Alan Johnson spent millions of pounds in the courts to cover up the evidence of torture.
It was this case that saw the “£1million” payouts to the victims of British and US torture—to stop information coming to light they settled out of court.
Money to cover-up torture
The British government spent £744,000 in its attempts to ensure a case involving the kidnap and torture of a Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife was never heard in court, documents obtained by Reprieve show.
In 2004, the British authorities organised a joint operation with the CIA in which Abdul-hakim Belhaj—a dissident opposed to Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi—and his wife Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped, abused and “rendered” to Gaddafi’s prisons.
The role of senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen in the operation came to light in documents which emerged following the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.
In 2012, Belhaj and Boudchar brought a legal case against the government over the part it played in their ordeal. This reached the Supreme Court last year.
The Tories spent £744,174.92 on legal costs associated with this attempt to stop the case receiving a hearing, even though the couple have offered to drop the case in return for an apology.
The rendition took place in the same month as then prime minister Tony Blair’s “Deal in the Desert” with Gaddafi, which established much closer relations between the two countries.
Documents found in the office of Moussa Koussa—Gaddafi’s spy chief—show Sir Mark claiming credit for the operation, pointing out that the intelligence which enabled it was British.
Cori Crider, a lawyer for charity Reprieve,said, “The government has wasted a staggering sum of public money in this case. It seems no expense is too great to spare the blushes of the security services.”
The scandal of Guantanamo
Since 2002 779 people, including at least 15 children, have been imprisoned at Guantanamo. The vast majority of them were sold to the US when the military was offering large bounties for capture of terrorism suspects – typically, around $5,000 for each man.
So far just nine detainees have been convicted of a crime – the same number of men who have died while in detention.
A series of failed suicide attempts classified by the military as “manipulative self-injurious behaviour” and mass hunger strikes have taken place in Guantánamo. The first hunger strike began in February 2002, just over a month after the first prisoners arrived there, shackled hand and foot, hooded and blindfolded by blacked-out goggles.
After a 2005 hunger strike, army doctors fed prisoners by means of tubes pushed up their nostrils and down into their stomachs. They called this “intensified assisted feeding”.
Dr John Edmondson, the commander of the US Naval Hospital at Guantanamo at the time, swore an affidavit saying: ‘The actual feeding process, both at the detention hospital and on the cell block, is very voluntary.’ He got a medal for that.
In December 2005, the number of hunger strikes dropped after mobile restraint chairs were introduced.
As well as straps for the prisoners’ arms and legs, the chairs had been modified to add two additional straps for the head and the chest. Instead of keeping the feeding tube in a hunger striker, a soldier now forced it into him twice a day, before each feeding, and afterwards pulled it out and walked away dragging all 43 inches of tube behind him.
On 10 June 2006 three prisoners committed suicide.
Rear Admiral Harry Harris, who is in charge of Guantánamo Bay, described these suicides as an “asymmetrical act of war”. Colleen Graffy, a spokesperson for the secretary of state for public diplomacy, said they were “a good PR move to draw attention”.
Shaker Aamer was one of the leaders of the hunger strike that began in July 2005. During the strike he wrote in his diary, “They try to do their best to destroy me mentally to stop my hunger strike. They come to clean the cell in the middle of the night and make strange noises just outside my cell door.
“This is all in the name of ‘checking up on me’ and ‘making sure I am all right’. I swear I have never seen such a devilish way of thinking as they seem to have. Sometimes I really stop to wonder whether they are human beings.”
One CIA agent said of Guantanamo Bay, “This is the press release. This is what they want you to see. This is where they’re taking the cameras.
“But you should know there’s a much wider system of detention, of camps around the world, where people are being taken.”
On at least three occasions children under ten were taken.
There are at least 39 named individuals who have completely disappeared after being “rendered”.
And there are hundreds more we know very little about. As many as 14,000 people went through the secret torture prison programme.
A fightback by the discredited
The Iraq war and its aftermath have rightly been widely condemned. But there's now an attempt to win back some of the ground.
Plenty of powerful forces want to cover up the role of torture in the British and US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They include politicians who denied the torture, and the spies and soldiers who ordered it and carried it out.
The New York Times pulled the first reports of the CIA secret prisons after US spies asked them to.
The British press still refuses to name British spies involved in torture. Socialist Worker named one, Nicholas Langam, and printed the pictures of others over a decade ago.
Outsourcing has become particularly useful as the British and US agents don’t even have to be in the room. They can be standing outside passing in the questions.
That allows politicians to deny overseeing torture. British government ministers were not only authorising torture, they were encouraging it.
But torture is not intended to produce information. The US and British states have long used torture to terrorise those who challenge their power.
Importantly it was the British who pioneered beatings, sexual humiliation, hooding, sleep deprivation and bombardment with white noise.