He was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he's dragging us further in
Friday, 12 February 2010
The revelations this week about how the CIA and British authorities handed over a suspected jihadi to torturers in Pakistan may sound at first glance like a hangover from the Bush years. Barack Obama was elected, in part, to drag us out of this trap – but in practice he is dragging us further in. He is escalating the war in Afghanistan, and has taken the war to another Muslim country. The CIA and hired mercenaries are now operating on Obama's orders inside Pakistan, where they are sending unarmed drones to drop bombs and sending secret agents to snatch suspects. The casualties are overwhelmingly civilians. We may not have noticed, but the Muslim world has: check out Al Jazeera any night.
Obama ran on an inspiring promise to shut down Bush's network of kidnappings and secret prisons. He said bluntly: "I do not want to hear this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy. I know that... but as a parent I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence." He said it made the US "less safe" because any gain in safety by Gitmo-ing one suspected jihadi – along with dozens of innocents – is wiped out by the huge number of young men tipped over into the vile madness of jihadism by seeing their brothers disappear into a vast military machine where they may never be heard from again. Indeed, following the failed attack in Detroit, Obama pointed out the wannabe-murderer named Guantanamo as the reason he signed up for the jihad.
Yet a string of recent exposes has shown that Obama is in fact maintaining a battery of secret prisons where people are held without charge indefinitely – and he is even expanding them. The Kabul-based journalist Anand Gopal has written a remarkable expose for The Nation magazine. His story begins in the Afghan village of Zaiwalat at 3.15am on the night of November 19th 2009. A platoon of US soldiers blasted their way into a house in search of Habib ur-Rahman, a young computer programmer and government employee who they had been told by someone, somewhere was a secret Talibanist. His two cousins came out to see what the noise was – and they were shot to death. As the children of the house screamed, Habib was bundled into a helicopter and whisked away. He has never been seen since. His family do not know if he is alive or dead.
This is not an unusual event in Afghanistan today. In this small village of 300 people, some 16 men have been "disappeared" by the US and 10 killed in night raids in the past two years. The locals believe people are simply settling old clan feuds by telling the Americans their rivals are jihadists. Habib's cousin Qarar, who works for the Afghan government, says: "I used to go on TV and argue that people should support the government and the foreigners. But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so?"
Where are all these men vanishing to? Obama ordered the closing of the CIA's secret prisons, but not those run by Joint Special Operations. They maintain a Bermuda Triangle of jails with the notorious Bagram Air Base at its centre. One of the few outsiders has been into this ex-Soviet air-hangar is the military prosecutor Stuart Couch. He says: "In my view, having visited Guantanamo several times, the Bagram facility made Guantanamo look like a nice hotel. The men did not appear to be able to move around at will, they mostly sat in rows on the floor. It smelled like the monkey house at the zoo."
We know that at least two innocent young men were tortured to death in Bagram. Der Spiegel has documented how some "inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex". The accounts of released prisoners suggest the very worst abuses stopped in the last few years of the Bush administration, and Obama is supposed to have forbidden torture, but it's hard to tell. We do know Obama has permitted the use of solitary confinement lasting for years – a process that often drives people insane. The International Red Cross has been allowed to visit some of them, but in highly restricted circumstances, and their reports remain confidential. In this darkness, abuse becomes far more likely.
The Obama administration is appealing against US court rulings insisting the detainees have the right to make a legal case against their arbitrary imprisonment. And the White House is insisting they can forcibly snatch anyone they suspect from anywhere in the world – with no legal process – and take them there. Yes: Obama is fighting for the principles behind Guantanamo Bay. The frenzied debate about whether the actual camp in Cuba is closed is a distraction, since he is proposing to simply relocate it to less sunny climes.
Once you vanish into this system, you have no way to get yourself out. The New York lawyer Tina Foster represents three men who were kidnapped by US forces in Thailand, Pakistan and Dubai and bundled to Bagram, where they have been held without charge for seven years now. She tells me there have been "shockingly few improvements" under Obama. "The Bush administration rubbed our faces in it, while Obama's much smoother. But the reality is still indefinite detention without charge for people who are judged guilty simply by association. It's contrary to everything we stand for as a country... I know there are children [in there] from personal experience. I have interviewed dozens of children who were detained in Bagram, some as young as 10."
Today, Bagram is being given a $60m expansion, allowing it to hold five times as many prisoners as Guantanamo Bay currently does. Gopal reports that the abuse is leaking out to other, more secretive sites across Afghanistan. They are so underground they are known only by the names given to them by released inmates – the Salt Pit, the Prison of Darkness. Obama also asserts his right to hand over the prisoners to countries that commit torture, provided they give a written "assurance" they won't be "abused" – assurances that have proved worthless in the past. The British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith estimates there are 18,000 people trapped in these "legal black holes" by the US.
As Obama warned in the distant days of the election campaign, these policies place us all in greater danger. Matthew Alexander, the senior interrogator in Iraq who tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says: "I listened time and time again to captured foreign fighters cite Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as their main reason for coming to Iraq to fight... We have lost hundreds if not thousands of American lives because of our policy." The increased risk bleeds out onto the London Underground and the nightclubs of Bali. I oppose these policies precisely because I want to be safe, and I loathe jihadism.
President Obama has been tossing aside the calm jihad-draining insights of candidate Obama for a year now. Whenever Obama acts like Bush, listen carefully – you will hear the distant, delighted chuckle of Osama bin Laden, and the needless stomp of fresh recruits heading his way.
Senior prosecution lawyers are being consulted by police over the possibility of bringing criminal charges against two British intelligence officers suspected of complicity in torture.
Gordon Rayner and Duncan Gardham
11 Feb 2010
An MI5 officer who interviewed the former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed and an MI6 officer involved in an unrelated case are waiting to find out if they will be prosecuted following an 11-month Scotland Yard investigation.
The inquiry into the MI5 officer, known as Witness B, is believed to be at an advanced stage, with police seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service on whether charges could be brought either under the Criminal Justice Act or the Human Rights Act.
Both cases were referred to police by the intelligence services, following internal reviews of the role of officers in interrogating terrorism suspects.
Details about Witness B’s alleged complicity in the torture of Mr Mohamed emerged on Wednesday when the Court of Appeal ordered the publication of previously censored information about MI5’s knowledge of his treatment.
The court said that Mr Mohamed had been deprived of sleep, shackled and threatened with the suggestion that he would “disappear” and that MI5 were fully aware of this.
Mr Mohamed has also claimed that Witness B fed questions to his CIA interrogators in the knowledge that he was being tortured.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, said in a draft judgment that MI5 did not “respect human rights or abjure participation in coercive interrogation techniques” and that “this was particularly true of Witness B”.
His comments were deleted from the final version of the judgment after an intervention from a barrister representing the Foreign Secretary, but were referred to in a copy of a letter which was leaked to the media.
Witness B admitted in 2008, during High Court hearings into Mr Mohamed’s treatment that he questioned Mr Mohamed after his arrest in Pakistan, but he stopped giving evidence in case he incriminated himself.
It is alleged that he knew Mr Mohamed was about to be “rendered” to Morocco and told him when he offered him a cup of tea: “Where you are going you need a lot of sugar.”
Wednesday’s Appeal Court judgment revealed that Witness B “saw himself as having a role to play in conjunction with the US authorities in inducing [Mr Mohamed] to co-operate by making it clear that the United Kingdom would not help unless [Mr Mohamed] co-operated.”
Detectives have declined to release any details about the case involving the MI6 officer, though concerns have previously been reported about a Secret Intelligence Service officer who attended an interrogation by the US military in Afghanistan of a man who had previously had a nervous breakdown.
The Human Rights Act 2000 prohibits torture, inhumane or degrading treatment and the Criminal Justice Act prohibits violence against prisoners.
If either officer was charged, they would face an unprecedented criminal trial to determine whether work they carried out on behalf of the state was legitimate.
In March last year Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, asked police to investigate Mr Mohamed’s claims that he was tortured, and in July the Met announced that a team of detectives led by deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers, of its specialist crime directorate, had begun a formal investigation.
Ethiopian-born Mr Mohamed, 31, who was granted refugee status when he came to Britain in 1994, spent seven years in custody after he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 as he tried to leave the country using a false passport.
He told investigators he had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in an attempt to kick a drug addiction, but was accused of links to Al-Qaeda and charged with plotting to blow up a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the US. The charges were later dropped when the US admitted its case was based on confessions obtained using torture.
Claims that MI5 misled MPs is 'a calumny and a slur', says chairman of intelligence committee
Robert Verkaik and Kim Sengupta
Saturday, 13 February 2010
An influential committee of MPs overseeing the role of MI5 was warned last year it had been misled over Britain's alleged collusion in torture.
A letter written by lawyers for Binyam Mohamed and sent to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) detailed a number of "inaccuracies" in the MPs' report on the UK's alleged involvement in rendition.
It made clear that evidence given to the High Court about what the secret services knew of Mr Mohamed's treatment by the CIA was in stark contrast with the committee's findings, which exonerated MI5 of collusion in torture.
This week, three Court of Appeal judges ruled in favour of publishing a summary of this evidence, which they said showed Mr Mohamed, 31, had been denied sleep and threatened with "disappearance". The judges said MI5 would have known about this treatment but continued to co-operate with the CIA in Mr Mohamed's interrogation in Pakistan in 2002.
Next week they will decide whether to publish their full judgement, which is believed to make direct criticism of MI5 and its "culture of suppression".
In August last year, Mr Stafford Smith wrote to the MPs saying: "New documents belatedly supplied by the Secret Intelligence Services to the court expose a number of factual inaccuracies in the ISC's report. I stress that these errors are not the fault of the ISC, but are occasioned by the false testimony that the ISC received (which was apparently similar, I am sad to say, to the false and incomplete testimony given before the High Court)."
But yesterday the chairman of the ISC denied that his committee had been misled by MI5. In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Dr Kim Howells said any claim that the intelligence services were colluding in torture was "a calumny and a slur and should not be made".
He also appeared to attack the senior judge in the Binyam Mohamed ruling, Lord Justice Neuberger: "I don't know what the Master of the Rolls is doing or playing at. He sometimes chooses to put some information in his reports and he says he sometimes doesn't. The role of the judiciary is something that I can't account for. That's something they have to defend."
Dr Howells added: "[I am telling you] that our completely independent investigations don't seem to confirm that the agencies are involved in any way in torture or complicity in torture."
He said his view was underpinned by a conversation he had with the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, who assured him MI5 had not been involved. In a rare public intervention, Mr Evans said criticism of the security service could help Britain's enemies. They would use "propaganda and campaigns to undermine our will and ability to confront them", he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "We would do well to maintain a fair and balanced view of events ... and avoid falling into conspiracy theory and caricature," he said.
The intelligence and security services say they have passed on any documents to the relevant authorities as they have come to light. These include papers which directly led to two separate Scotland Yard investigations, one into the Binyam Mohamed affair and a separate one into handing over prisoners to the Americans in Iraq.
The documents – which were found, it is claimed, in a collection of material held by MI6 – were passed on to the Attorney General, who ordered the police investigations.
A 2007 report by the ISC stated that an MI5 agent, "Witness B", had visited Mr Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002 but has had no further contact with the agency. But Mr Mohamed's lawyers say that documents subsequently presented to the High Court by MI6 show that US authorities continued to supply information to Britain from him until 2004.
Binyam Mohamed: The facts, the allegations and the political reaction
Q. Who is Binyam Mohamed and what happened to him?
A. Binyam Mohamed al-Habashi, an Ethiopian national, sought asylum in the UK in 1994. He was given indefinite leave to remain and in June 2001 he travelled to Afghanistan, where he is said to have fought alongside the Taliban. He has since described the Taliban as the "best government Afghanistan has had in 20 years". Pakistani authorities arrested Mr Mohamed and, he claims, he was deprived of sleep during interrogation in Karachi. He was subsequently sent to Morocco where, he says, he was subjected to torture, before being moved to Guantanamo Bay. He was released and returned to Britain last year.
Q. What lies behind the current controversy over the role of British intelligence in the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed?
A. The Foreign Secretary David Miliband had taken legal action to keep secret seven paragraphs of "sensitive information" about Mr Mohamed being mistreated while in American custody. A draft judgment by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, was sent to the parties involved in the action. Jonathan Sumption QC, acting for the Government, maintained to the court that the draft judgment was portraying MI5 as not respecting human rights; having a "culture of suppression"; not renouncing "coercive interrogation"; and deliberately misleading MPs in the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). Mr Miliband lost the case.
Q. What will now happen to the judgment?
A. Lord Neuberger and his two fellow Appeal Court judges have stated that they have accepted Mr Sumption's argument, but they have been asked by Mr Mohamed's lawyers, and those of a number of media organisations, to reconsider this acceptance.
Q. What has been the reaction of MI5, Government and the ISC?
A. The head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, says that the claims in the draft judgment were "the precise opposite of the truth". The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has described the media coverage of the affair as "baseless, groundless accusations" and "ludicrous lies". Mr Miliband also strongly defended the security and intelligence services. Kim Howells, chairman of the ISC, has denied that the committee was misled by MI5.
Q. What has been the reaction of the opposition parties?
A. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has claimed that ministers "at the very top of the Government" knew Britain was potentially complicit in torture but failed to act. David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary and now a backbench Conservative MP, accused MI5 and MI6 of complicity in torture, adding that the alleged mistreatment of Mr Mohamed "seems like something the Gestapo got up to".
Q. How much did British intelligence and security services know about Mr Mohamed's mistreatment?
A. An MI5 officer, "Witness B", travelled to Karachi in Pakistan in 2002. He said he observed no abuse and Mr Mohamed did not complain to him about abuse. According to the evidence given to the ISC by MI5, they had no further contact with the prisoner. But the then-director general of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the ISC that "with hindsight" she regretted not seeking assurance from the Americans that Mr Mohamed would not be abused.
Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent
Wednesday 10 February 2010
When the master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger, decided to retract paragraph 168 from his draft judgment in the case of Binyam Mohamed, he relied on almost 400 years of jurisprudence to assume that the parties in the case had agreed to its removal.
The case of Ship Money, brought by Oliver Cromwell's cousin John Hampden in 1637, established the principle that there should be no secret communication between lawyers and the courts in legal proceedings.
Representations from one side – in this case, the foreign secretary's barrister, Jonathan Sumption QC – should be copied to all other parties in the case, so that they have the opportunity to respond.
On that basis, when Neuberger received a letter from Sumption requesting removal of the paragraph from the court of appeal draft judgment, lawyers say he must have thought he was acting with the agreement of all parties.
Neuberger removed the paragraph from the final judgment, watering down the court's condemnation of the security services, described by Sumption as containing "exceptionally damaging criticism".
"The master of the rolls' observations … will be read as statements by the court that the security service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques," says Sumption's letter, now published in full on the Guardian's website.
But other parties in the case were not consulted and are furious.
"In all the years – I was first a government lawyer and then a liberty lawyer – I have never known the draft judgment process abused in this way," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the human rights organisation which was a party to the case. "The purpose of using drafts is for typographical and factual corrections – minor matters such as names and dates.
"It is not to allow one party to re-run substantive arguments and tempt a court to tone down or change its judgments."
She added: "I can't believe that the Foreign Office thought they could get away with this. It shows the kind of contempt for the law that this case has always been about."
"This is anti-constitutional behaviour of the most disquieting kind," said Mark Stephens, who represented a group of American newspapers in the case and was not informed of Sumption's letter to the court until yesterday, when the judgment had already been changed. "In my experience of 31 years practising as a lawyer, it is unprecedented.
"This conduct has embarrassed Lord Neuberger who clearly assumed that he had received all submissions when he reached his decision to remove the judgment."
In a remarkable series of events, Neuberger has admitted he may have been "over-hasty" to remove the findings, after the Guardian, as well as Liberty and Justice, challenged the exclusion.
"I think it was over-hasty to amend that written request of one party, without giving other parties the opportunity to reply," said Neuberger.
Answering questions in the Commons today, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, defended the attempt to have the paragraph removed from the judgment.
"What our counsel did, once he had been provided with copy of the judgment in draft, was to express real concern that one paragraph set out conclusions that went beyond the evidence concluded and risked causing prejudice to a criminal investigation," said Miliband. "Our counsel took the view that this should be brought to the attention of judges in case."
Miliband came under fire from MPs for the conduct of the Foreign Office, for attempting to have the paragraph retracted, and for the court's findings that seven paragraphs kept secret from an earlier Binyam Mohamed judgment should also be kept secret.
The paragraphs, which have now been released, were redacted after Milliband said their publication would damage the government's intelligence-sharing relationship with the US administration.
"Publication of the redacted paragraphs would not reveal information which would be of interest to a terrorist or criminal or provide any potential material of value to a terrorist or a criminal," said Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge in today's judgment. "It increasingly appears that the issue is the control principle rather than the confidentiality of any information within the redacted paragraphs themselves."
"This whole case was one about openness, and attempts by the government to cover-up torture instead of exposing it," said Chakrabarti. "The fact that even at the court door, before the ink has even dried on the court of appeal's judgment, the government has had yet another go at a cover-up is truly remarkable."