Friday, December 20, 2013

Rendered Speechless

Yesterday, retired judge Sir Peter Gibson reported on his review of 20,000 top secret documents following allegations of wrongdoing against MI5 and MI6 officers. Gibson found evidence that the UK had been "inappropriately involved" in some renditions, and that a further investigation was needed into investigations of complicity.

Let me just spell that out for you. The UK has been involved in the illegal transfer of persons to another country for the purposes of torture.

Documents found in the Libyan foreign ministry after the civil war in 2011 show that both the CIA and MI6 rendered suspects to the Libyan authorities in the full knowledge they would be tortured. Yes, you heard right. Two western democracies were flying people in to what they for years had considered a rogue, terrorist state so they could circumvent their own justice system. On some occasions, these were their own citizens.

So why isn't there widespread outrage in the UK about this? Simple. We've been led to believe that it is somehow vital for our "national security" that we allow the security forces to operate outside the rule of law. That they be allowed to employ torture - widely regarded as ineffective in obtaining accurate, useful information - to "protect" us.

Not that these actions did much to protect Shaker Aamer. A Saudi citizen and a British resident, Aamer was picked up by the CIA in Afghanistan in November 2001 and rendered to Guantanamo Bay three months later. He has been held there since without charge.  Aamer has never been charged with any offence, never received a trial and has been cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Aamer was rendered to Guantanamo Bay on the basis of information provided by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, who turned him over to the US forces in exchange for a cash bounty. The evidence for detaining him in Guantanamo came from a detainee dismissed as "entirely unreliable"  and who is known to have been tortured in order to obtain information.

There is no other reason for him to still be in Guantanamo, other than the fact that if he is released he will be in position to reveal the methods used by the CIA, MI5 and MI6 supposedly for our protection, and they don't want to lose what little public support they have left.

The Gibson report came out on the same day as the verdict was delivered on the two men who murdered soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Coincidence? Maybe. 

What better way to reinforce the idea that we need to export people with no connection to terrorism to foreign states where they can be tortured, than to remind us of the threat of terrorism on our own doorstep?

The rendition and Rigby stories have at least provoked some debate on what drives Islamic terrorism. Sadly the fact that the key driver is Western foreign policy, in particular the way the US and UK dealt with Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of "tackling terrorism", is the elephant in the room. Anyone positing that as a cause of Islamic terrorism is dismissed as a radical to be hectored and ridiculed on news shows.

If we want to prevent Islamic terrorism either on our streets or against British targets in the Middle East, how about we start repairing some of the damage we've done? Be a much more worthwhile investment than the social and moral cost of sending innocent people into torture.

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