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Torture a 'shared value'? [updated 11th September 2013]


Next time superior-sounding politicians lecture us on the need to sign up unquestioningly to the shared values of liberal, democratic Britain, or 'civilised' US or Canada perhaps someone ought to raise a few caveats.

11th September 2013
British soldiers have accused colleagues of abusing Iraqis they shot or detained after an intense gunfight with insurgents in 2004, the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident heard on Tuesday.

The inquiry was told that a soldier fired a weapon into a "twitching" body, threw rocks at a prisoner's head, pushed him into a ditch where he nearly drowned, and hit him in the chest, stomach, and face.

The allegations were made by British army witnesses who will give evidence to the al-Sweady inquiry in London over claims that British soldiers killed 20 unarmed civilians and abused others at Camp Abu Naji after what became known as the Battle of Danny Boy, a British military checkpoint near Majar al-Kabir, on 14 May 2004.

11th August 2013
A former MI6 officer will begin a week-long hunger strike on Monday in solidarity with the Guantánamo Bay detention camp prisoner Shaker Aamer, a move he says is prompted by shame over the behaviour of the British intelligence service he once served. Harry Ferguson, 52, will attempt to fast for a week to highlight the plight of Aamer, the last UK resident being held at the US military camp, who has been on hunger strike for more than 170 days. The former MI6 operative, who took part in the fight against terrorism, said he was motivated by a regret that the "organisation of which I was once proud to be a member now supports policies including assassination, rendition, torture and detention without trial".

He said that recent claims that British intelligence officers had been covertly campaigning against Aamer's repatriation had proved the final straw.

"In fact [the legal charity] Reprieve has recently uncovered evidence that MI6 is directly briefing against his return to this country because once he arrives here he will reveal that MI6 officers were present while he was being tortured," he added.

26th July 2013
"Canada's intelligence services, including the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), have recently been given an annual budget of about $400 million to use and share information extracted through the use of torture, despite the Canadian government saying it does not condone such acts...."

3rd July 2013
Human Rights Lawyer Paul Harris in a letter to the Guardian; "....In 2004, my client, Sami al-Saadi, an exiled opponent of Libya's President Gaddafi, was handed to Libyan agents, with his family, by the Hong Kong authorities, at the request of MI6. The family arrived back in Libya on 28 March 2004, three days after Tony Blair arrived in Tripoli for his famous 'rapprochement' meeting with Gaddafi. Once in Libyan custody, Mr Saadi was imprisoned in appalling conditions for six years and repeatedly subjected to severe torture. He was given a show trial in 2009, condemned to death and finally released in 2010. Over the same time period that he was being tortured in Tripoli, he was visited and questioned by British intelligence personnel. Subjecting people to torture in Britain or overseas is illegal under British law. The British Government has paid the Saadi family £2.2m in settlement of a claim. This size of settlement could not have been authorised unless MI6's conduct in relation to the Saadis was illegal. It is too much of a coincidence that Saadi's forced return coincided with Tony Blair's visit to Tripoli. I call on Tony Blair to disclose all he knows about MI6 and British government action in relation to Sami al-Saadi.

8th June 2013
Kate Allen in the Guardian: ...Take the allegations of UK complicity in torture abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations. It's an issue that's been festering for a long time and that the committee says gives rise to deep concern. In 2010 David Cameron, then recently elected as prime minister, acknowledged that allegations that UK officials had "colluded" in the rendition, secret detentions and torture of detainees in places such as Pakistan or Afghanistan risked tarnishing the UK's reputation "as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law". It needed to be addressed, he said, in order to "restore Britain's moral leadership in the world". Three years have passed – more than half a term in political office – and the stain remains, if anything deepening over time.

7th May 2013
David Pildich in Daily Express: "In the rebellion, groups of Kenyans attacked officials and white farmers who had settled in the country’s most fertile lands.

The alleged victims say they were beaten and sexually assaulted by officers acting for the British administration trying to suppress the uprising.

The legal defeat followed the discovery of an archive of colonial-era documents which the Foreign Office is said to have kept hidden for decades.

The papers revealed that during the rebellion – in which tens of thousands died – officials authorised mistreatment of inmates held at the prison camps.

It was only when the Kenyan Human Rights Commission contacted the victims in 2006 that they realised they could take legal action."

2nd April 2013
Iain Cobain in the Guardian: "British soldiers and airmen who helped to operate a secretive US detention facility in Baghdad that was at the centre of some of the most serious human rights abuses to occur in Iraq after the invasion have, for the first time, spoken about abuses they witnessed there."

31st March 2013
David Rose in the Mail on Sunday: "...
Then again, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, which has officers based in Jerusalem, works closely with the Palestinian agencies that carry out the torture, seeing them as sources of valuable intelligence....The UK also provides and pays for the training of middle and senior ranking officers from every PA security agency, including the General Intelligence Service or Mukhabarat, the Preventive Security Organisation, Military Intelligence and the ordinary police force. Ironically, the training includes courses on the need to respect human rights and the rule of law."

9th March 2013
Mark Townsend and Daniel Boffey in the Guardian: One of the country's leading human rights barristers is to resign her membership of the Liberal Democrats to express her outrage over the coalition government's backing for secret courts.
Dinah Rose QC successfully represented the British-resident Guantánamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, in his battle to establish that British intelligence services were complicit in his "cruel and inhuman" treatment by the United States.

6th March 2013
The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war...

28th Feb 2013
Chris Woods, Alice K Ross, Oliver Wright in the Independent: ...An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups. Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

10th Feb 2013
Robert Scheer in TruthDig.com: "When it comes to torture in the post 9/11 era, the record of the United States is so appalling that one must question our claimed abhorrence of the barbarism of other nations. In fact, the essence of our rendition program has been to outsource torture to those countries most sadistic in their use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' That is flattery of a most twisted sort...Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, known for its horrid interrogation tactics condemned in the Arab Spring uprising, was selected by the U.S. to interrogate Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who 'under threat of torture at the hands of Egyptian officials, fabricated information relating to Iraq’s provision of chemical and biological weapons training to al-Qaida,' the report states".

3rd Feb 2013: "[Former CIA Director Michael] Hayden acknowledged that prisoners might say anything to stop their suffering. (Like the other panelists, he insisted EITs weren't torture.)"

30th January 2013, Ian Cobain in the Guardian: Lawyers representing hundreds of Iraqi men who are demanding a public inquiry into their allegations that they were tortured while being held prisoner by the British say there is also a need for a transparent examination of suspicious deaths in Iraq. They say they have identified 13 deaths in British military custody, in addition to that of Baha Mousa, tortured to death by British troops in September 2003. The true figure could be higher, but is being withheld by the MoD, Michael Fordham QC told the court. "We don't know how many deaths they are aware of and are investigating. We have suggested, a few times now, that they might want to tell the court the truth."

20th January 2013, Ed Vulaimy in the Observer: Britain will face fresh charges of breaching international law over the alleged torture and killing of prisoners during the war in Iraq, which began almost exactly 10 years ago. The allegations will be unveiled in the high court, when Britain will stand accused of a "systemic" policy of abuse committed over five years, from 2003 to 2008.

13th January 2013, Owen Bowcott in the Guardian: "The partially suppressed version cuts out crucial details about torture allegedly being inflicted on an Afghan detainee who had been arrested by British forces. The man claimed Afghan forces he was handed over to had beaten him on his feet and legs with metal rods until he was unable to stand. Lawyers who fought the case claim the two versions demonstrate how politically embarrassing evidence can be concealed under the veil of protecting national security".

6th January 2013: Henry McDonald in the Observer, "Clarke had a hood placed over his head for seven days and was subjected to torture, including 'white noise', sleep deprivation and beatings. Three years later he and the other men were awarded £12,500 for the way they were maltreated. The case was taken against the Ministry of Defence and the former Home Affairs department of the last Unionist-dominated Northern Ireland government. In 1976 the European Commission on Human Rights found Britain guilty of torture in the 11 men's cases".

23rd December: Lutze Oette in the Guardian, "The Ministry of Defence continues to pay the price for what the Baha Mousa inquiry termed its 'corporate failure' in Iraq, having paid out £8.3m to 162 Iraqi torture victims this year alone. While the figures speak volumes, the payments remain shrouded in secrecy....The British public, for its part, needs to learn what British forces did in its name. Ultimately, it is time to come clean and prevent history from repeating itself, from the torture condoned in the suppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya, through Northern Ireland, to Iraq".

19th December: "There’s one particular nightmare that Americans need to face: in the first decade of the twenty-first century we tortured people as national policy. One day, we’re going to have to confront the reality of what that meant, of what effect it had on its victims and on us, too, we who condoned, supported, or at least allowed it to happen, either passively or with guilty (or guiltless) gusto....The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made it clear that no further investigations or inquiries will be made into America’s decade of torture. His Justice Department failed to prosecute a single torturer or any of those who helped cover up evidence of the torture practices. But it did deliver a jail sentence to one ex-CIA officer who refused to be trained to torture and was among the first at the CIA to publicly admit that the torture program was real."

17th December 2012:"The hotel receptionist [Baha Mousa], who had been hooded with a sandbag for 24 hours, sustained injuries including fractured ribs and a broken nose during the final 36 hours of his life in the custody of the 1st Battalion, Queen's Lancashire Regiment..."

13th December 2012: "CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on, the European court of human rights said in a historic judgment released on Thursday...The Strasbourg court said it found Masri's account of what happened to him "to be established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia had been "responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial 'rendition'."

The Guardian, "Ministers have agree to pay more than £2m to the family of a prominent Libyan dissident (Sami al-Saadi) abducted with the help of MI6 and secretly flown to Tripoli where he was tortured by the security police of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator, Sami al-Saadi was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong with his wife and four young children in a joint UK-US-Libyan operation. They were then flown to Libya, where all of them were initially imprisoned. Saadi was held and tortured for years....The government paid the sum by way of compensation and without admitting any liability [sic]. Evidence of the UK's role in the operation – believed to be the only case where an entire family was subjected to 'extraordinary rendition'– came to light after Gaddafi's fall in 2011."

Gareth Peirce's article, 11th December 2012, 'Why do we torture': "...Habeas corpus has been abandoned for the outcasts of the new order in both the US and the UK, secret courts have been created to hear secret evidence, guilt has been inferred by association, torture and rendition nakedly justified (in the UK our government's lawyers continue to argue positively for the right to use the product of both) and vital international conventions consolidated in the aftermath of the Second World War - the Geneva Convention, the Refugee Convention, the Torture Convention - have been deliberately avoided or ignored...."

" Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj, who spent six years in Guantanamo Bay prison, told Al Jazeera, 22nd November 2012,"They used dogs on us, they beat me, sometimes they hung me from the ceiling and didn't allow me to sleep for six days...Sometimes they wouldn't allow me to use the restroom, other times they would run the air conditioner very high and leave me in that room for a very long time."

Ian Cobain & Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, "The full story of the British government's attempts to mount a cover-up following a massacre of unarmed prisoners during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya has been disclosed with the declassification of hitherto secret files from the era.

The documents - held for five decades in a secret Foreign Office archive - show that ministers and officials were claiming that the men had died after drinking contaminated water long after they had been informed of the truth: that all 11 had been been beaten to death".

Solicitor Gareth Peirce's response after the ruling to prevent the deportation of Abu Qatada: "It is important to reaffirm this country's position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected – rejected by the courts of this country as by the European court of human rights". However Prime Minister Cameron and his Home Secretary have no such compunctions.

Politicshome website: "Torture claims have prevented the UK transferring insurgents to Afghanistan, a court heard yesterday. An urgent hearing found that that they would be handed over to a notorious torturer and alleged killer Asadullah Khalid, the head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security. A judge said foreign office minister Baroness Warsi had had done a deal with a man responsible for prisons where there were 'still very live concerns'.

Maya Wolfe-Robinson and Ian Cobain in the Guardian, 31st October 2012: "Human rights campaigners have called for a full criminal investigation into the rendition of a Pakistani man by UK and US forces to Afghanistan, following a supreme court judgment describing his subsequent detention at the notorious US prison at Bagram as unlawful. Yunus Rahmatullah has been imprisoned ever since he was handed over by the SAS to American forces in Iraq in 2004, and has never been charged".

Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 22nd October 2012: "Within days of the 9/11 attacks on the US, the CIA told British intelligence officers of its plans to abduct al-Qaida suspects and fly them to secret prisons where they would be systematically abused. The meeting, at the British embassy in Washington, is disclosed in a forthcoming book by the Guardian journalist Ian Cobain. It raises serious questions about repeated claims by senior MI5 and MI6 officers that they were slow to appreciate the US response to the attacks, and never connived in torture...Cobain's book, Cruel Britannia, says the British military operated a 'torture centre' throughout the 1940s 'in complete secrecy, in a row of Victorian villas in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in London'. They also ran an 'interrogation centre' near Hanover in Germany. Evidence from newly released records shows that British involvement in abuse was common earlier – in the colonies, later in Northern Ireland, and much more recently in Iraq.".

George Monbiot in the Guardian, 9th October 2012: "...Last week three elderly Kenyans established the right to sue the British government for the torture that they suffered – castration, beating and rape – in the Kikuyu detention camps it ran in the 1950s. ...The government's secret archive, revealed this April, shows that the attorney general, the colonial governor and the colonial secretary knew what was happening. The governor ensured that the perpetrators had legal immunity: including the British officers reported to him for roasting prisoners to death. In public the colonial secretary lied and kept lying...."

Nicholas Watt and Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 19th September 2012: "Clarke brands critics of the government's justice and security bill, which will usher in secret courts, as "reactionary parts of the human rights lobby". He says it is necessary to introduce the new measures to ensure intelligence material can be admitted as evidence without risk of exposing it to the public domain.... The bill was drawn up after the court of appeal agreed to disclose CIA information which showed that MI5 and MI6 knew Binyam Mohamed, a British resident was abused and subjected to inhuman treatment while held as a terror suspect. It was also prompted by UK citizens suing the government for compensation after being held in Guantanamo Bay.

Chris McGreal in the Guardian, 6th September 2012: "Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the US government of covering up the extent of waterboarding at secret CIA prisons, alleging that Libyan opponents of Muammar Gaddafi were subjected to the torture before being handed over to the former dictator's security police. The report, Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi's Libya, also says that the CIA, Britain's MI6 and other western intelligence services were responsible for 'delivering Gaddafi his enemies on a silver platter' by sending the captured men to Tripoli for further abuse after the American interrogations...HRW said the treatment of the Libyans sheds light on the Bush administration's failure to distinguish between Islamists responsible for the 9/11 attacks and "those who may simply have been engaged in armed opposition against their own repressive regimes".

David Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 5th September 2012: MI5 and MI6 remain embroiled in the unresolved dispute about their role in the abuse and torture of terror suspects. The government tried to push allegations under the carpet by compensating UK residents and citizens taken by the CIA to Guantánamo Bay – and no sooner had it done so than evidence emerged in Libya showing how MI6 helped arrange the abduction of Libyan dissidents to Tripoli, where they say they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi's secret police. "There are clearly questions to be answered about ... whether the UK supped with a sufficiently long spoon," says Manningham-Buller, who was head of MI5 at the time. MI6, which was ultimately accountable to then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, says the rendering of the dissidents to Libya in 2004 was authorised by ministers.

David Barrett in the Sunday Telegraph, 24th August 2012: "...Salahuddin Amin, was jailed for life in 2007 for his role in a terrorist cell that conspired to detonate a massive fertiliser-based bomb at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent or at London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. Amin’s lawyers allege the British authorities knew that incriminating evidence against him had been obtained through torture. He claims MI5 were complicit in his torture by Pakistani security agents, whom he alleges used pliers to remove three of his fingernails...Rangzieb Ahmed, is the highest ranking member of al-Qaeda yet to be put on trial in Britain. Ahmed, 37, was at the centre of al-Qaeda’s global web and had links with every British terrorist cell including the July 7 and July 21 plotters. The first person to be convicted of 'directing terrorism', he alleges MI5 allowed him to leave Britain for Pakistan and tipped off intelligence services there so that he could be arrested in 2006 and tortured. Ahmed claims Britain was complicit in his torture. He also claims he was denied a fair trial because it was 'informed by the interrogation undertaken in Pakistan' and he was denied access to material after a public interest immunity certificate was granted in the case...David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, has said there was 'hard evidence' of torture in the men’s cases and there should be an inquiry. "

Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian:
The Ministry of Defence has been accused of withholding evidence of "truly shocking" treatment of civilians in an incident involving the most serious allegations made so far against British forces in Iraq. Interrogations by British military personnel involved "young men of 18, 19, and 20, some seriously injured with gunshot wounds, being stripped naked, forced to stand, not given appropriate medical treatment, and threatened with violence whilst still under the shock of capture in the middle of the night", said Patrick Connor QC, counsel for the Iraqi detainees.

David Rose in The Mail on Sunday: ...devastating new claims of abuse by British soldiers carried out at a secret network of illegal prisons in the Iraqi desert. One innocent civilian victim is said to have died after being assaulted aboard an RAF helicopter, while others were hooded, stripped and beaten at a camp set up at a remote phosphate mine deep in the desert.

Peter Oborne in the Guardian, 13th April 2012:
"The evidence has become extremely strong that Britain has indeed been part of a conspiracy to transfer terrorist suspects around the globe to secret locations where we knew they would be tortured...

Reportedly, M16 is ready to pay a significant sum of hush money to Mr Belhadj, said to be £1 million, in order to prevent him taking them to court. We only know the details of his case because of papers found after the fall of Gaddafi in the bombed-out offices of Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s intelligence chief. They included a letter allegedly from an MI6 officer, Mark (now Sir Mark) Allen congratulating Colonel Gaddafi’s government for the “safe arrival” of the “air cargo”. Sir Mark (who has not challenged the letter’s authenticity) apparently boasted of the British role: “It was the least we could do for you and for Libya.”

There is no question that the actions said to have been carried out against Mr Belhadj (and an unknown number of others) were against the law. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it clear that carrying out or abetting torture, whether under British or foreign jurisdiction, is punishable by jail. Indeed, the maximal sentence is life imprisonment – as Jack Straw, who voted for it, ought to be aware.

If the claims concerning the treatment of Mr Belhadj stand up – and the evidence looks extremely strong – it is essential that those responsible should be prosecuted. Otherwise Britain will send the message to the world that we are prepared to sanction torture.

Clive Baldwin in The Guardian, 21st Feb 2012:
"Most countries, including the UK and Jordan, have signed up to the UN Convention Against Torture, which means they agree not only to the absolute ban on torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment, but also to refrain from any complicity in the crime.... Tony Blair's government sought to end the ban on deportation to countries where the risk of torture was real, an effort rejected by the European court of human rights. Britain came up with another policy, of obtaining "diplomatic assurances" – it asked countries with a record of torture to promise not to brutalise those deported by Britain. Such promises cannot work. No country admits to torture, so governments will readily promise not to abuse anyone, even when torture is commonplace.

But British involvement in torture abroad almost certainly went much further. Human Rights Watch discovered evidence of Britain helping to send people to Gaddafi's Libya, where they were tortured, and of involvement in interrogations in Pakistan where torture took place. The extent of this practice remains unclear, as David Cameron's government has abandoned the important, but flawed, inquiry it set up to investigate British complicity in torture abroad."

The speech by the MI5 chief, Jonathan Evans, at his alma mater, included this passage:
Operating a security service within a liberal democracy does of course pose problems and occasionally dilemmas.... Given the pressing need to understand and uncover Al Qaida's plans, were we to deal (however circumspectly) with those security services who had experience of working against At Qaida on their own territory, or were we to refuse to deal with them, accepting that in so doing we would be cutting off a potentially vital source of information that would prevent attacks in the West? In my view we would have been derelict in our duty if we had not worked, circumspectly, with overseas liaisons who were in a position to provide intelligence that could safeguard this country from attack.... we do not solicit or collude in torture. We do not practice torture. But we are operating in a difficult and complex environment.î [full text on the University of Bristol website, 15th Oct 2009]

Clive Stafford-Smith, a voice of conscience, had this to say about Evans's speech ìIt may well be that British agents do not soil their own hands with the apparatus of torture, but they certainly know that torture is going on, and loiter in the shadows while others apply the thumbscrews... Evans's agents could witness the crime of torture and do nothing to prevent it. They could then step into the interrogation room and question the suspect. He suggests that these issues have presented ëa real dilemmaí for the service. Well, there should be no dilemma. To witness torture and act the ostrich is a criminal offence, which explains why the Metropolitan police are currently investigating the actions of the security services in at least two cases. This is a failure in leadership, more than of the agents in the field.î

But it is not just a failure of leadership. Why havenít the checks and balances within Parliament worked? Why is that we do not hear of ministers, civil servants, officers and others breaking ranks, denouncing both torture and complicity in torture, and resigning where appropriate?

Why has no one from the faith leaders come forward and remarked on Judeo-Christian values and their incompatibility with torture, or the complicity with torture?

Where are the voices from the captains of industry. Professor Darius Rejali, in his masterly study, ëTorture and Democracyí [Princeton University Press, 2007], amongst many examples, cites a British company that installed the 'House of Fun' at Dubai's Special Branch Headquarters: Marketed as prisoner disorientation equipment it is a high-tech room fitted with a generator for white noise and strobe lights such as might be seen in a disco, but turned up to full volume capable of reducing the victim to submission within half an hour.

After all the Conventions and Protocols to which Britian has signed up to are unambigious.

The UN Declaration against Torture states that ìtorture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.î The United Kingdom signed up to the UN Convention against Torture on 15th March 15, 1985.

The European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3, reads, ìNo one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.î The United Kingdom signed up to the ECHR in July 2000.

Any collusion in torture, or support of torture, or sanctioning a policy that leads to people being tortured is a breach of conventions. The witnessing of torture without seeking to prevent is a breach of conventions This includes the outsourcing of torture. If British authorities have been complicit in the torture of people, whether outside the UK or within, then this is clearly a breach of the UN Convention and the ECHR.

British ministers and authorities take the moral high ground:

- Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a Downing Street Press briefing, February 2009: ìOur policy is not to support torture or to condone tortureî

- Lord Malloch-Brown, in a debate in the Lords on the case of Binyam Mohamed on 5th Feb 2009: ìAt the heart of Mr Mohamedís case have been allegations that he was tortured by foreign government officials in a number of locations. It is of course the long-standing policy of the Government that we never condone, authorise or co-operate in torture. I repeat that commitment today.î

- Sir John Scarlett, outgoing head of MI6, stated in a BBC interview in August 2009, ìthere is no torture and no complicity in torture by the British secret serviceî.

This moral high ground does not square up with Mr Evans's Bristol speech.

Gareth Peirce, the famous human rights lawyer has noted in a brilliant essay in the London Review of Books, ìTorture is the deliberate infliction of pain by a state on captive persons. It is prohibited and so is the use of its product. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment emphasises that there are no exceptional circumstances at all justifying its use, whether state of war or threat of war or any other public emergency; none of these may be invoked as a justification. Orders from superiors are explicitly excluded as a defence, and moreover the Convention requires that wherever the torture occurred and whatever the nationality of the torturer or victim, parties must prosecute or extradite perpetrators to a country that is willing to prosecute them.î (LRB, 14th May 2009)

Can there be a shared value more important than the complete prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment?

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