The British government claims to act as a restraining force on the US military at Guantanamo Bay, but this is far from the truth.
Last month, in a deeply cynical move, the British attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, claimed to have won concessions on the two British Guantanamo Bay detainees, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg. He announced that the US government had agreed not to seek the death penalty against the two men.
But according to Clive Stafford-Smith, the US-based lawyer who has represented the two British prisoners at hearings in the US, this is no concession at all, since there is no evidence that the two men have committed any act that would result in the death sentence.
This means the reported concessions were simply spin calculated to make the British government look more humane and less like a client state of the Bush administration. The truth appears to be that the British government has made few serious attempts to secure a fair trial for the two men.
Campaigners want the men brought back to Britain to stand trial. But this looks unlikely to happen and British officials have strongly denied newspaper reports that the home secretary turned down a US State Department offer to repatriate the two Britons. By contrast, Pakistan has seen more than 30 of its Guantanamo detainees returned and none will face trial in Pakistan. There is not enough evidence to prosecute the men under Pakistani law.
The US military is using torture against suspected terrorists in prisons around the world. And now, British intelligence officials have said that information obtained from victims will be used to prosecute terror suspects in secret British tribunals.
But evidence obtained during torture is notoriously unreliable and international law forbids its use in court. Campaigners say the secret British tribunals breach human rights. The director of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Malcolm Smart, said, ‘Information obtained under torture is cheap and dirty information. If the intelligence services are cooperating in this way then they are in effect condoning, even encouraging, the torturers.’
Britain’s controversial anti-terrorism tribunal – the Special Immigration Appeals Commission – meets behind closed doors with the press and public frequently excluded.
With such a high level of secrecy it is not surprising that Amnesty International has condemned the tribunal as ‘a perversion of justice’. The prisoners are angry because their lawyers are not allowed to know the prosecution charges and intelligence evidence is kept secret.
The tribunal is currently hearing a series of appeals against the detention of ten Muslim men held in British high security jails. The detainees’ supporters allege that some of the prosecution evidence comes from prisoners at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where it is thought that the CIA employs an interrogation technique known as ‘stress and duress’.
‘Stress and duress’ is a form of torture – it involves beating and kicking detainees. Medical treatment and painkillers have been denied to men injured in battle. There can be no doubt that any information gathered in these circumstances will be unreliable. Yet the British government claims the evidence is safe.
What is clear is that the use of ‘stress and duress’ techniques can prove fatal – two prisoners at Bagram airbase have died as a result of the treatment.
The two men, both Afghans, died in December last year and a US military autopsy found they had died of ‘blunt force injuries’. A military pathologist officially classified the deaths as homicides and a criminal investigation is now under way. But it appears unlikely that any US serviceman will face charges.
At Bagram airbase former detainees claim they were chained to the ceiling, kept naked apart from a hood and beaten to keep them awake for days on end. One of the two deceased prisoners, identified only as 22 year old Dilawar, was certified as dying from ‘blunt force injuries to the lower extremities’. The other, 33 year old Mullah Habibullah, died from a blood clot on the lung caused by repeated beatings. A third death at a detention centre near Asadabad, Afghanistan, is also under investigation.
As well as this, lawyers in the US have suggested the CIA is handing over Arabs detained in the US to countries where full-blown torture is routinely employed. The countries thought to be torturing the US suspects include Egypt, Morocco and Syria. Exporting prisoners to these countries helps the US military gather information without paying any regard to international law, and away from the spotlight of world opinion. Like Guantanamo Bay, international scrutiny is almost impossible.
The US government has admitted that physical ‘stress and duress’ techniques, as well as psychological torture are used at Guantanamo Bay. Since the camp opened there have been 28 reported suicide attempts involving 18 prisoners. This is not surprising when detainees are held in wire mesh cages measuring 9ft by 8ft and each prisoner is allowed only one hour outside his cell each week. The wire cages overlook a newly constructed execution chamber and the US intends to seek the death penalty for those found guilty of certain terrorist offences in its special military commission, where the prisoners have no real prospect of a fair trial.
Civil liberties campaigners are suspicious of the British government’s motives. Is it possible that the government secretly approves of the US in its violation of human rights and international law at Bagram airbase and Guantanamo Bay? This suspicion will be even stronger now that MI5 has admitted it intends to use torture evidence in its case at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
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