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UK on U.S. Rendition: “Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?”

A series of documents released on July 14 in the UK Binyam Mohamed civil case, Al Rawi and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Others, have produced a series of explosive revelations, reported in Britain and as yet unknown here in the U.S. The story has been reported at the UK Guardian, while the British advocacy group Reprieve has posted links to all the documents on its site.

The fate of the "ghost prisoners" in the U.S. rendition torture program has been the subject of much speculation. It was a central mystery explored in the recently released best-selling thriller by Barry Eisler, Inside Out, which takes the CIA’s secret black site torture and disappearances as the real-world scandal around which the book’s plot revolves. Eisler’s book implies that there were more killings in the secret prisons than we know.

Now, one of the most incendiary revelations in the documents concerns instructions given to MI6 Special Intelligence Service (SIS) over detention operations. According to Chapter 32 of MI6’s general procedural manual, "Detainees and Detention Operations", "the following sensitivities arise" (PDF – bold emphasis added):

a. the geographical destination of the target. Where will she or he be held? Under whose jurisdiction? Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?

b. what treatment regime(s) for the detainees can be expected?

c. what is the legal basis for the detention?

d. what is the role of any liaison partner who might be involved?

The "objective" of "killing" points to the existence of extrajudicial murders carried out by the intelligence services. It’s not clear if the killings are by UK or liaison — including United States — forces. "Liaison partners" refers to instances of operational cooperation with non-UK intelligence agencies.

Both the Guardian and Reprieve make it clear, as does a perusal of the documents themselves, that official British policy was to cooperate with the U.S. rendition program. At more than one point, the UK government, led then by Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, intervened to facilitate the rendition of prisoners, including UK citizens. At one point, in 2002, British officials discuss how to spin the leaks about UK cooperation with the rendition program: "Our line — that we are seeking information and reassurances and that the US is aware of our opposition to the death penalty — is not strong, but a stronger line is difficult until policy is clearer."

From the Reprieve report:

In a January 10, 2002, telegram from the FCO [Foreign Office], officials made clear that the Blair Government wanted British nationals taken to lawless detention in Guantanamo Bay: “we accept that the transfer of UK nationals held by US forces in Afghanistan to the US base in Guantánamo is the best way to meet out counter-terrorism objective by ensuring that they are securely held"….

An FCO official recognized in an August 22, 2002, email that “we are going to be open to charges of concealed extradition” and that as a result of direct interference by Number 10 “we broke our policy” on consular access by failing to help Martin Mubanga. Mubanga, who was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing after years in lawless detention without charge, was rendered first to Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo because Number 10 specifically refused to allow him to come home.

The Guardian article details a number of other details about "the Labour government’s involvement in the illegal abduction and torture of its own citizens." The UK government says it has identified half a million documents relevant to the Mohamed disclosure requests. The government’s request to stop the release of documents and force mediation with the plaintiffs was turned down by the British court.

Cameron Touts Secrecy for UK Torture Inquiry

The avalanche of documents has not escaped the notice of the new Cameron/Clegg coalition government. Just last week they announced the formation of a UK "judge-led investigation" regarding the complicity of intelligence personnel in the torture and rendition of detainees. The investigation is being conducted by a panel of three, whose head is the intelligence-connected Sir Peter Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). Many questions have been raised by the appointment of Gibson, and it is startling to think that British human rights groups will accede to the appointment, given Gibson’s likely bias, not to mention his track record in other "judge-led" investigations.

In any case, the six cases involved in the Mohamed civil proceedings are among those to be considered by the Gibson inquiry. While the government may not be able to stop the flow of documents in the Mohamed case, the Prime Minister was not going to let this be a precedent for the upcoming torture investigation.

From the UK Guardian:

Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. "Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret," he said. "So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public."

Maybe Cameron will be mollified if he looks at released documents like this one (PDF), in which almost 29 of 36 pages are totally redacted.

Exposing U.S. Torture

While on the surface this appears to be a story about Britain and torture, it is really about the United States. Tony Blair bent British rules and policies, including adherence to international treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, at the behest of and to placate and cooperate with the United States.

At many points in the documents, it’s evident that British intelligence agents were witnessing serious abuse of prisoners. While they were told not to participate (actively) in the torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, the policies were written such that cooperation could proceed with ministerial approval.

The silence meeting these latest revelations in the U.S. press, the lack of ongoing interest in the UK torture inquiry, the failure by the so-called "progressive" components of the Democratic Party to strenuously take up the call by the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and other human rights groups for greater accountability and official investigations over torture is an ominous development. One can only hope at this point that the continuing revelations about great crimes and cover-up will reach a tipping point, and the outrage over other issues — the BP massive oil blowout, Mel Gibson, etc. — will attach to the torture issue, which goes right to the heart of what this nation is. And right now, that heart is rotten.

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.