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That Special Relationship


Glenn Greenwald has been reporting for months on the appalling treatment by US authorities of those held in US prisons in the US, Guantanamo, Iraq/Afganistan and elsewhere under the pretext that these “unlawful enemy combatants” were the “worst of the worst” and a threat to American security. You can trace his many efforts starting here, and keeping going through Glenn’s archives as long as you can stand the sickening stories he relates. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 sought to strip detainees of any remaining habeas corpus rights to US courts, and so far, it has. But it was at least supposed to stop the most serious mistreatment of prisoners and provide a minimum of due process. No serious person believes that.

From The Guardian, Tuesday, January 9:

The day after tomorrow marks the confluence of two ignominious anniversaries. The first is the five-year anniversary of the opening of the notorious prison camps run by the US at the Guantánamo naval air station in Cuba. In the five years since the US started shipping prisoners from around the world to Guantánamo, approximately 99% have never been charged with any transgression, much less a crime. Approximately 400 prisoners, characterised by the Bush administration as "the worst of the worst", have been released without charge, many directly to their families. That any prisoners have been released is due almost entirely to the outrage of the civilised world.

Thursday is also the start of my clients' fifth year of captivity around the world. Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, both British residents, are prisoners because British intelligence tipped off the CIA that they were travelling from the UK to Gambia and falsely described them as Islamist terrorists. We know this because in a court proceeding last year the British government produced copies of telegrams sent by MI5 to the CIA. Although the names are redacted from the documents, we know that the CIA was the recipient because the judge in the case inadvertently noted that they had been sent to the CIA. In the telegrams, MI5 provided knowingly false information to induce my clients' arrest and subsequent rendition.

Bisher and Jamil remain prisoners because, until March of last year, Britain refused to demand their release. Then the foreign secretary made what appears to be a half-hearted request for the release of Bisher in the face of public exposure of the connections with MI5. Britain, however, still refuses to demand the release of Jamil and seven other British residents. None will ever be charged; there is no evidence in the record I have reviewed that would withstand the slightest scrutiny in any court. Moreover, the treatment of Bisher and Jamil has been so appalling, the Bush administration would never allow their story to be exposed to the world in open court. And, of course, some of that story directly implicates British officials.

The story, written by G. Brent Mickum, an American attorney representing the two British detainees, details their five years of continuous mistreatment at Guantanamo by US authorities. Mickum describes how repeated interrogations and months of isolation have "slowly but surely" driven his clients towards madness. Yet for several years, neither the British nor US governments did anything to change the conditions until last year.

That changed suddenly when the government asked for Bisher's return on non-humanitarian grounds, belatedly conceding that Bisher had worked for MI5. Unfortunately for Bisher, this long-overdue admission, and the British government's request for his immediate repatriation, coincided with Bisher being thrown into isolation. He remains there more than nine months later, with no end in sight.

Read the rest of the story for how Mickum describes five years of mistreatment at the hands of US authorities, with the apparent indifference of the British Government. Then ask yourself this: In whose name is this being done? And could we have at least one reporter at today's White House gaggle ask Mr. Snow how he personally feels about this?

Our second British story from the Daily Mail (h/t Lou Costello and Raw Story) concerns the British response to the US plans to escalate the Iraq war by sending in several thousand additional US troops. It seems that the British Government thinks the Bush plan is a bad idea.

Tony Blair will make clear this week that Britain is not going to send more troops to Iraq even if the US pushes ahead with a "surge" of 20,000 extra soldiers.

The Prime Minister will insist that the UK will stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army, as it has been doing with success in Basra and the south. . .

Mr. Blair may have been encouraged by the comments of Chancellor Gordon Brown, viewed as the likely successor to Blair later this year, and who has been outspoken about distancing the British from President Bush:

He hinted that he will take a more independent position in relation to the White House as prime minister, promising to "speak my mind" and put Britain's national interest first.

And he made clear that the "surge" of up to 20,000 new troops for Iraq expected from Mr Bush would not deflect him from the aim of reducing Britain's military commitment in the country by thousands by the end of the year.

The chancellor's description of the manner of Saddam's death as "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable" increased pressure on Mr Blair, who has so far refused to comment publicly on the former dictator's hanging.

I keep thinking that all it might have taken at any critical moment to stop the madness was for a decent person in a position of world leadership to stand up and simply say, "No. Enough. Stop." But we are still waiting.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley