Torture Taints All Our Lives

Secret trials, control orders and torture: the foundations of British justice enshrined in the Magna Carta are being undermined

Last Friday it was announced that,
under instructions from the attorney general to the director of public
prosecutions, the police are to investigate claims by released
Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed
that MI5 agents had knowledge of his US-directed torture, and that they
also provided information to his interrogators while he was being held

Given that it is seven months since judges in the high court ruled
that British involvement with the US authorities "went far beyond that
of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing," this is welcome
news, but what the case of Mohamed demonstrates above all is the extent
to which the Bush administration's horrendously novel approach to
detention and intelligence-gathering in the "war on terror" not only
made a mockery of the US's adherence to the UN Convention Against Torture, but also infected the policies of numerous other countries.

in the Bush administration's deliberate flight from the absolute
prohibition on torture - accompanied by its decision to hold terror
suspects neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva
conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trials in a
recognised court of law - it has become clear that the US had no closer
ally than Britain.

This is revealed not only in the case of
Mohamed, but also in the cases of other British prisoners held in
Guantanamo: 15 in total, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph
at the weekend. I presume that these include the other British
prisoners released from Guantanamo, who were all held at some point in
US-run prisons in Afghanistan, where they were visited by British
intelligence agents. In addition, as the Independent reports today, another of these men is the British resident Shaker Aamer
(still held at Guantanamo), whose lawyers reported that "UK
intelligence services officers were present while Mr Aamer was beaten.
They provided information and encouragement to his US torturers. They
made no attempt to stop his ill-treatment or any enquiries into his

Nor is this the end of British involvement in
torture. As the Guardian has revealed in a number of reports over the
last 10 months, the British intelligence services have provided
information to be used in the interrogations of British nationals held
in Pakistan and Egypt, even though they must have been aware that interrogations in both countries may have involved the use of torture.

overlooked, however, is another British policy that could only have
arisen through an enthusiastic endorsement of the Bush administration's
wayward policies: the detention, without charge or trial, of "terror
suspects" in the UK, first in Belmarsh, for three years (from December
2001 to December 2004), until the law lords ruled the process illegal, and, ever since, under control orders or deportation bail orders, which are often so strict that they amount to house arrest.

the country that exported habeas corpus to the rest of the world (the
principle, enshrined in the Magna Carta, that no one may be imprisoned
"except upon the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land"),
it is disturbing to realise that dozens of men - including a handful of
British nationals - are deprived of their liberty based on secret
evidence that neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see.

in the cases of those facing deportation, the British government is
prepared to endanger our own commitment to the UN convention against
torture, which prohibits the return of foreign nationals to countries
where they face the risk of torture, primarily because it is unwilling
to join the rest of the world in finding ways to allow information from the intelligence services to be presented in a court of law while protecting its sources.

we are asked, by the home secretary Jacqui Smith, to trust that our
intelligence services never make mistakes, and are prevented from being
able to investigate suspicions that, in some cases, the information
used to detain these men was extracted through the torture of prisoners
in other countries.

I am glad to be able to report that, today, Diane Abbott MP
is hosting a parliamentary meeting in the House of Commons to discuss
the growing use of secret evidence in British courts, and I hope that
numerous MPs deign to attend, but above all I hope that the people of
this country understand the extent to which the corrosive effects of
the Bush administration's "war on terror" have diminished our own
ability to recognise that, without fair trials and an absolute ban on
the use of torture, we have undermined the very foundations of fair and
open justice that were enshrined, 794 years ago, in the Magna Carta.

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