British intelligence agencies were involved in widespread torture and kidnap of terrorism suspects after 9/11. That’s the chilling conclusion of two reports from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC).
The evidence—just a glimpse of the true situation—should shatter any talk of the superiority of “British values”.
The reports say the overseas spying agency MI6 and the domestic spies in MI5 were involved in hundreds of torture cases and dozens of rendition cases. Rendition means that suspects were seized and removed to other countries where there were people prepared to torture them.
The ISC reports come just weeks after Theresa May was forced to apologise for the “appalling” treatment of the Libyan politician Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, who was tortured after MI6 helped Muammer Gaddafi’s regime detain him in 2004.
The committee says the agencies were aware “at an early point” of the mistreatment of detainees by the US and others. There were two cases in which British personnel were “party to mistreatment administered by others”. One has been investigated by the Metropolitan police but the other is still to be fully investigated.
Bella Sankey, deputy director of human rights organisation Reprieve, said the restrictions the ISC were operating under meant its report had only "scratched the surface".
"The Prime Minister has so far shown contempt for the committee's work and its recommendations," Sankey said.
Jack Straw, the Labour foreign secretary from 2001-2006, will now face questions over how much he knew and, given that accusations of torture and rendition were prominent at the time in the press, why he did not ask for a briefing.
A key passage in the report says MI6 “sought and obtained authorisation from the foreign secretary” for the costs of funding a plane involved in a rendition case.
The committee says it was frustrated it could not call Straw and three others, believed to be the then home secretary, David Blunkett, and two intelligence officers because they would only be available to answer partial questions.
Straw said in a statement: “Although I was formally responsible for both [MI6] and GCHQ during my period as foreign secretary . . . I have today learnt much about the activities and the approach of these agencies of which I was not aware before.”
Central points of the reports are:
- Britain breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
- There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
- MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
- On 232 occasions British intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
- Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others. Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
- In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
- MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
Moazzam Begg—‘Tony Blair and Jack Straw should be prosecuted for war crimes’
Moazzam Begg is a former Guantanamo inmate and director of detainee rights organisation Cage. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s taken nearly two decades for this to come out about these crimes. And it's important that we call them crimes—war crimes committed in the context of the war on terror.
"My organisation Cage produced a list of 29 cases—including one pre-9/11 case—where British MI5 were complicit, sometimes in torture, other times just handing over questions.
"What the ISC report gives no details about is what next. Will there will be any prosecutions or just the same old rhetoric of 'lessons have been learned'.
"Jack Straw said that people were conspiracy theorists if they believed that British devices were involved in torture. I believe he was speaking under 'parliamentary privilege’—saying those lies when he knew people were being tortured.
"I was asked on the BBC if I still think that. Yes, I do. If it was anyone from a Sub Saharan country, responsible for some lesser crime, without a shadow of a doubt they would be being prosecuted.
"There needs to be a stronger movement now for them to be prosecuted for war crimes, not just in Guantanamo but in Iraq. The war on terror is still going on in Syria and Iraq.
"In 2014 a Senate Committee report admitted to torture taking place.
“The consequence of releasing this truth but doing nothing about it is a president today who can say that torture works, and is worse than George Bush or Barack Obama.