New Torture Revelations Rock UK Government
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Despite the British Government’s best efforts, damning Court of Appeal findings about the “dubious” treatment of former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Binyam Mohamed, have been made public. This followed from attempts by the Government, and an appeal by Foreign Secretary David Miliband to keep the findings secret.
In essence the now published “paragraph 168” as it has become known is highly critical of Britain’s Security Services, stating that some officials “appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques”. In layman speak that means that British Secret Service officials did know that Binyam Mohamed was “mistreated by US officials”. Mohamed alleges that he was not just mistreated, but tortured while being detained in Morocco en route to Guantanamo, and his genitals “were cut”.
The Court repeated its criticism of the Security Services, saying further that; “The record of Security Service officials regrettably but inevitably must raise the question of whether any statement in the certificates on an issue concerning such treatment can be relied upon.... Not only is there an obvious reason for distrusting any UK government assurance based on Security Service advice and information, because of previous ‘from’ , but the Foreign Office and the Security Services have an interest in the suppression of such information”.
When I was covering the case at the Old Bailey Law Courts in London earlier this year, the judiciary was informed by the Government that any findings that were made public as to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed would compromise Britain’s intelligence relations with the United States. Again, loosely translated, this means that even if the torture claims of Mohamed were to be proved, they would have to be kept secret on grounds of national security. This, despite the Government’s oft stated policy that it “does not condone the practice of torture”. Had Mohamed not gone to court, and had the Judges been cowed by the British Governments appeal to “National Security”, we would never have known that some Security Service officials were complicit in activity that is illegal under international and domestic British law.
Foreign Secretary, David Miliband has had the wool pulled over his eyes, believing seemingly without question what the Security Services told him. The Parliamentary Committee that is supposed to oversee the work of the MI5 and MI6 has been summarily led up the garden path as well. It says a great deal about both the supine nature of the Foreign Secretary and the members of the Committee that they have taken all of this humiliation lying down, and even now are seeking to defend the indefensible. One member, former Cabinet Minister, Margaret Beckett even said that the Court ruling, ruled out any more individuals who had been treated in the same way as Mohamed with British knowledge, when the ruling says the exact opposite.
There are those on the extremes in Britain and America who believe that the State should have the right to suppress information and who condone torture. They will accuse those who are concerned with upholding human rights and international law as being “soft on terrorism” or worse. These people, if they but knew it, would have been happy in Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany.
Quite how these Security Service officials were allowed to “go rogue”, we may not know for some time, but it is high time that they acted within the law at all times.
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