The government have recently decided to halt an independent inquiry into British secret services and government officials colluding in the extraordinary rendition and torture of terror suspects. Why? Because new evidence coming to light clearly ties British intelligence services to torture. It doesn’t make sense, but then again, nothing about the government’s position on our secret service does.
The supposedly independent inquiry, led by former Intelligence Services Commissioner Steve Gibson, was an election promise for David Cameron, but it was put on indefinite hold on Wednesday. The inquiry was set-up to establish exactly who knew what in relation to the revelations that British agents, although not directly participating in torture, had handed over prisoners to known torturers like the Pakistani ISI, authorised CIA extraordinary rendition flights landing in UK airports and provided intelligence to foreign agencies leading to the capture and torture of suspects of terrorism.
The Gibson inquiry has been stalled for over a year while they waited for the Crown Prosecution Service to complete a criminal investigation into two specific allegations of collusion in torture. One case where Binyam Mohamed was visited and questioned by a British agent a month after being detained by Pakistani secret services. He was later held in Morocco, and then in Guantanamo Bay, British secret services continued to supply questions to ask Mohamed to the US throughout his detention. The other case involved an individual detained by the US in the infamous Bagram Airbase after receiving intelligence from our secret services.
The investigations found that there was no “prospect of convicting any member of either Service for offences of aiding and abetting torture, aiding and abetting war crimes and misconduct in public office.” Although the investigation found that information had been provided to the US which led to torture it could not find any particular agent culpable. That there would be no record of the intelligence given to the US or who authorised it, and no name attached to the agent that saw Binyam Mohamad after his torture in Pakistan seems rather improbable considering how closely the services keep track of their agents.
The public statement, by the Metropolitan Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, announcing that no charges would be brought against the intelligence community for the two cases also declared new investigations into the extradition of Libyans by the UK into the hands of Gaddafi. This effectively killed off the Gibson inquiry into the wider issues of who was organising the outsourcing of torture, as they would have to wait for another lengthy criminal investigation to finish. So the UK public will have to wait even longer before we find out what atrocities our taxes go towards funding.
The MI6 Chief Sir John Sawers said in October, in the first public address by an MI6 Chief ever, "If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we're required by UK and international law to avoid that action.” Yet we have clearly documented cases of British agents having knowledge of torture and continuing to aid and abet the other foreign agencies responsible. Quite how our Secret Services can justify not even believing that suspects might come to harm after being handed over to the United States when Guantanamo bay has been in operation for over a decade and its manuals on torture have been leaked honestly evades me.
It was Tony Blair that decided to allow our Intelligence Services to use the information gathered from the application of physical and psychological suffering. He may not have allowed our agents to commit it, but fostered a pattern of institutionalised support of torturers to avoid having to dirty our own hands. This is not a case of rogue agents, but is authorised and approved by the highest levels of government.
If an agent wishes to commit an act that would be considered illegal here in the UK or might have political ramifications then it must first be approved by a senior minister, usually the Foreign Secretary. There are around 500 such applications sent in every year and so should in theory provide the link between government and the Secret Services, but investigation of these ties has died off with the end of the Gibson inquiry.
There is however scope for the investigation into the renditions of two Libyan dissidents Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi to Col. Gaddafi to investigate how far up the chain of command the orders went. When searching the captured Libyan Intelligence Agency a letter from the then Head of MI6 Mark Allen to Libyan Intelligence Chief Moussa Koussa was found, saying "I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week."
Jack Straw and David Milliband from the Foreign Office could both have legitimately signed off on the order. Tony Blair publicly denied all knowledge of the rendition of the two Libyans, but considering it happened only days before his famous visit to Gaddafi it seems surprising that it wasn’t mentioned in his security brief.
So we’ve got a story of British agents involved in illegal torture, government ministers in the loop, no charges brought against individuals, a flawed inquiry killed dead and now new legislation to ensure that evidence against the Secret Services is never made public. An institution that requires the corruption of so many others to justify it’s existence cannot survive much longer.
Those in power would call it national security, I’d call it torture.
Photo by Iain Crump on Geograph.org.uk