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Year 2010 No. 5, February 22, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Torture and the Rule of Law

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Torture and the Rule of Law

British Government Acknowledges Torture of Guantanamo Detainee by US Officials

UN Report Denounces US over Rendition and Secret Detention Camps

Why is Shaker Aamer still held in Guantánamo Bay?

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Torture and the Rule of Law

Last week two of the Labour government’s most senior ministers, Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, wrote a joint letter in the press defending Britain’s security services against the accusation of torture. They explained that they were concerned that coverage of the case of Binyam Mohamed, formerly a captive of the US at Guantanamo Bay, would "leave a false impression about the work and ethics, not to mention the accountability, of our security and intelligence agencies. This is not just unfair on the staff concerned, but dangerous for the country." They added that "the Government's clear policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose". At the same time, in an equally unprecedented manner, Jonathan Evans, Director General of MI5, also wrote an open letter in the press in which, amongst other things, he claimed, "We did not practise mistreatment or torture… nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf."

A visitor from another planet having read both letters would have concluded that not only did the government and its security services not practise or condone torture, but also that both were the most transparent and accountable of institutions that had recently been slandered by a malicious press, evidently in league with the enemies of freedom and democracy. But in fact what the world was witnessing was an attempt by the government and MI5 to turn truth on its head. Having spent months attempting to prevent details of MI5’s complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed becoming public, the government acted last week when three of the county’s most senior judges not only made the details of his torture public but one of them, Lord Neuberger, the master of the rolls, condemned MI5 for not renouncing "coercive interrogation" techniques, failing to respect human rights and deliberately misleading Parliament.

There will no doubt be further attempts to muddy the waters in this particular case, since further details of the government’s complicity in Binyam Mohamed’s detention and torture have yet to emerge. But it is far from being an isolated case. Only last month a UN report claimed that the government was involved in the torture of its own citizens during the so-called "war on terror", including the use of "proxy detentions" overseas, which the report asserted could be considered a crime against humanity. The US-based Human Rights Watch at the close of 2009 issued a similar report. Then there have been numerous reports of the torture of civilians by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before that, torture was used against many patriotic individuals in Ireland, as Gerry Adams and other have testified. At this very moment, the British government is facing another court case relating to the torture and breaches of human rights that its predecessor carried out in colonial Kenya during the 1950s, in its attempts to suppress the Kenyan people’s struggle for independence. In this case, the government has gone even further in its denials, because it presents the astonishing defence that the present Kenyan government, not the government of Britain, is legally responsible for any crimes committed by British troops and officials during British colonial rule.

These and many other cases demonstrate that torture and other repressive methods, many of them illegal under international and even British law, are and have been commonplace under successive governments and are employed when the state finds it necessary both at home and abroad. As in the present case concerning Binyam Mohammed, the state always denies that it carries out such illegal and barbaric acts, preferring instead to claim that these are the deeds of its enemies and that it is acting to safeguard democracy and the rule of law and save British citizens from such barbarism, which is indeed a characteristic of medievalism. Now once again the government stands exposed before the world, as does US imperialism, of whom Britain is still an ally and accomplice. In these circumstances it appears that the government believes that the only course open to it is denial and the more overwhelming the evidence, the more brazenly does it deny its involvement, in this case claiming that it has been the greatest supporter of Binyam Mohamed and the most zealous campaigner for his release from the US concentration camp.

It is the responsibility of the working class and all democratic people to take measures to bring the criminal acts of the government and its repressive state apparatus to an end once and for all and to end the impunity of those who carry out and are responsible for all crimes of torture, whether they be committed at home or abroad.

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British Government Acknowledges Torture of Guantanamo Detainee by US Officials

The Foreign Secretary lost his Appeal Court bid to stop the disclosure of secret information relating to the torture of British resident Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed. The evidence has shown that British authorities knew that Binyam Mohamed was tortured at the behest of US authorities after his detention in Pakistan in 2002. Judges ruled that paragraphs which say his treatment was "cruel, inhuman and degrading" should be released. David Miliband said the ruling was "not evidence that the system is broken". The judgment was delivered by the three most senior Court of Appeal judges in England and Wales.

Commenting on the case, the Prime Minister's spokesman said the government stood firmly against torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.

Mr Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, said the seven paragraphs were just "crumbs" and there was "a vast body of other information out there showing Binyam Mohamed was abused". "There's really no denying that the British knew all about it," he added.

The key details are contained in a seven-paragraph summary of what the CIA told British intelligence officials about Mr Mohamed's treatment in 2002. These paragraphs have now been published on the Foreign Office website.

The paragraphs concern a period in which Mr Mohamed was being held by Pakistani interrogators at the behest of the US, who suspected him of having received firearms and explosives training from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. They say Mr Mohamed was intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation, as well as threats and inducements, including playing on his fears that he would be passed on to another country. London learnt that the stress brought on by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled during his interviews and that Mr Mohamed was eventually placed on suicide watch.

The court's judgement stated: "The treatment reported, if it had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom would clearly have been in breach of [a ban on torture]. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of BM by the United States authorities."

Following the ruling, Mr Miliband gave a statement to the House of Commons, saying he accepted the court's decision, but that the government's objection had never been about the seven paragraphs specifically.

"We have fought this case and brought the appeal to defend a principle we believe is fundamental to our national security – that intelligence shared with us will be protected by us," the foreign secretary said. No-one likes to lose a case, but the force of the judgement is that it firmly recognises that principle." He added: "This judgement is not evidence that the system is broken, rather it is evidence that the system is working and the full force of the law is available when citizens believe they have just cause."

A senior US official said that Britain remained "a key partner" in the fight against terrorism and both sides would "need to redouble our efforts to work through this challenge".

It has emerged that a senior government lawyer, Jonathan Sumption QC, wrote to the Court of Appeal criticising the original wording of the judgment. He argued it would be "exceptionally damaging" if published because it would give the impression "that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques". The passages to which Mr Sumption objected did not appear in the version of the judgement that was eventually published.

Last year, the High Court ruled that the seven paragraphs should be published as the risk to national security was "not a serious one" and there was "overwhelming" public interest in disclosing the material. However, the summary was kept secret to allow the Foreign Secretary to appeal.

Mr Mohamed, an Ethiopian granted refugee status in Britain in 1994, was initially arrested in Pakistan in 2002 over a visa irregularity and was handed over to US officials. He was secretly flown to Morocco in 2002. There, he says, he was tortured while interrogators asked him about his life in London – questions, he says, that could have come only from British intelligence officers. Mr Mohamed was sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2004. He was held there until his release without charge in February 2009, when he returned to Britain.

(Source: BBC, 10.2.10)

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UN Report Denounces US over Rendition and Secret Detention Camps

The United Nations Human Rights Council released a report documenting and denouncing secret detention and extraordinary rendition on January 26. The report denounced the US in particular for its broad use of secret detention facilities and rendition, where people are kidnapped or captured in other countries by the US, then sent to secret camps to be detained and often tortured. Many people were held incommunicado for years, with no charges, no trial, no lawyers, not even Red Cross visits. The report provides information concerning how US secret facilities were set up and run, including the various countries the US utilised for such purposes.

The report spoke to current concerns that while the CIA may have closed some detention facilities, it still operated what are now termed "short-term facilities" serving the same purpose. As well, concern was raised that the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and its secret facilities did not come under executive orders by President Obama to close the CIA’s secret facilities. JSOC is notorious for its secret and illegal operations, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, who headed it, is now in charge of the war against Afghanistan. Given this, concerns raised about the continuation of renditions and secret facilities where people are tortured are well founded.

As head of JSOC, McChrystal is the general who has been in charge of the torture and other secret and illegal military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan known as "black ops". It is also the case that as part of Guantánamo court cases, Obama was ordered to release photos of prisoner torture. After first saying he would release them, Obama then refused, invoking "national security". Interestingly, he made this decision two days after appointing McChrystal to head the US war against Afghanistan. Appointing McChrystal – the very embodiment of torture, assassinations, kidnappings, and drone attacks massacring civilians – while also invoking state secrets to justify further concentration of power in the hands of the president, are contributing to distrust in government and with Obama.

The report also said, "Secret detention as such may constitute torture or ill-treatment for the direct victims as well as their families. But as many of the interviews and cases included in the present study have illustrated, the very purpose of secret detention was to facilitate and, ultimately cover up torture and inhuman and degrading treatment used either to obtain information or to silence people. While in some cases, elaborate rules were put in place authorising ‘enhanced’ techniques that violate international standards of human rights and humanitarian law, most of the time secret detention was used as a kind of defence shield to avoid any scrutiny and control – and make it impossible to learn about treatment and conditions during detention."

The UN report concluded, "International law clearly prohibits secret detention, which violates a number of human rights and humanitarian law norms that may not be derogated from under any circumstances. If secret detention constitutes enforced disappearances and is widely or systematically practiced, it may even amount to a crime against humanity." It emphasised, "In spite of these unequivocal norms, secret detention continues to be used in the name of countering terrorism around the world." The report stressed that establishment of secret detention could not be justified under any circumstances, including during states of emergency or armed conflict. They specifically examined and condemned its use as part of the US organised "war on terror". They brought out that the "CIA appears to generally have been involved in the capture and transfer of prisoners, as well as in providing questions for those held in foreign prisons". Other countries such as Britain were also condemned for their complicity in the renditions and turning people over to torture.

The UN experts recommended that all such facilities be eliminated and specifically prohibited. The rights of all detainees are to be respected, including their right to challenge detention and not to be subjected to torture and degrading treatment of any kind. It said names should be handed over to the ICRC so that families can be notified and actions taken to assist and defend those imprisoned. The report also calls for reparations to be paid to all those imprisoned in such secret facilities and their families. It emphasised, "The status of all pending investigations into allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees and detainee deaths in custody must be made public. No evidence or information that has been obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment may be used in any proceedings."

The year-long study was conducted by the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

(Source: Voice of Revolution)

Article Index

Why is Shaker Aamer still held in Guantánamo Bay?

By Reprieve, January 8, 2010

Shaker Aamer has been held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. He is a legal permanent resident of the UK, married to a British national, with four British children living in London.

Shaker has long been cleared for release by the United States. He has never been charged by the United States with a crime and has never received a trial. However, he has been repeatedly abused and subjected to extended isolation in Guantánamo Bay.

Shaker grew up in Saudi Arabia with his four siblings. His parents divorced when he was a child and his father remarried. Shaker’s stepmother was unkind to her new family and at the age of seventeen, he ran away to America to join a family he had known from home.

He spent the next few years travelling in Europe and the Middle East, before moving to London where he met his wife and married. Their first child, Johina, was born in 1997.

Shaker was a hands-on dad. He changed nappies without complaint, and as time passed, the Aamer family grew and grew. Michael was born in 1999, Saif a year later and little Faris in 2002- after his father had been imprisoned. Shaker has never set eyes on his youngest son.

Shaker is a natural leader who is known for his concern for others. While in London, he worked as an Arabic translator for the solicitor who advised him on his immigration case. Helping refugees put Shaker where he loved to be – as counsel, listening and advising. But in the end, it was his dedication to the welfare of others that led to his detention in Guantánamo Bay.

In June 2001, Shaker went to Afghanistan to do voluntary work for an Islamic charity. He stayed in Kabul, which was at peace at the time. But after September 11th, the bombing of Kabul began. Fearing he would be taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance, who were suspicious of all Arabs in Afghanistan he went into hiding with an Afghan family. But his freedom didn’t last long.

Soldiers arrived at the house, stripped Shaker of his belongings and took him away at gunpoint. For the next two weeks, Shaker was sold to various groups of soldiers, who accused him of killing their leader and beat him mercilessly. The abuse continued, and when Shaker and four other Arab prisoners were driven out of Kabul one night, he thought the end had come and they were to be executed.

Instead, the sound of a helicopter and American accents filled him with relief. "Americans!" he thought. "We are saved!" In fact, his transfer to US forces marked the beginning of a new nightmare. Shaker arrived at Bagram Air Force Base at the end of December 2001 where he suffered terrible abuse.

Forced to stay awake for nine days straight and denied food, he dropped 60 pounds in weight. US personnel would dump freezing water him. This treatment, combined with the bitter Afghan winter, caused Shaker’s feet to become frostbitten. He was chained for hours in positions that made movement unbearable, and his swollen, blackened feet were beaten. He was refused the painkillers he begged for.

Shaker began to say whatever the US wanted, whether it was true or not. Satisfied with confessions made by a man desperate to end his torture, the US military transferred Shaker to Guantánamo Bay in February 2002. Despite the hardships he has endured, Shaker remains the kind and supportive man he was when he was captured, with a reputation for looking out for his fellow prisoners.

When the military police beat up a prisoner while he was praying, Shaker initiated the first hunger strike at Guantánamo. More than three hundred prisoners began refusing meals. The Americans negotiated with Shaker, promising changes in the camp conditions. But the promises were broken. When the hunger strike began again in September 2005, Shaker was placed in solitary confinement as punishment. He has remained alone in a six foot by eight foot windowless cell ever since.

After Reprieve took up his case, Shaker was cleared for release. The British government have requested he is returned to the United Kingdom, but negotiations with the US ceased in December 2007 and have not been renewed. Meanwhile Shaker waits alone in his cell, officially cleared of wrongdoing, but still paying the cruellest of costs for his kindness to others.

(Article reprinted from http://www.reprieve.org.uk

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