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The official line is clear: the UK does not 'participate in, solicit, encourage or condone' torture.
October 20, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

An edited extract from Cruel Britannia: A Secret History Of Torture, or Torture UK: why Britain has blood on its hands.
In December 2005, the full truth about British complicity in rendition and torture was still such a deeply buried official secret that Jack Straw felt able to reassure MPs on the Commons foreign affairs committee about the allegations starting to surface in the media. "Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories," he said, "and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition."
Ian Cobain is a senior reporter for The Guardian who has previously been awarded the Orwell Prize and the Paul Foot Award.
He writes frequently about how British governments consistantly defy the law and then lie about it. As he has previously indicated, this is nothing new.
posted by adamvasco (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States

Sounds about right.
posted by mykescipark at 11:36 AM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jamal al-Harith, British citizen: After 9/11, he had been imprisoned by the Taliban, who suspected him of being a British spy...Harith's file shows that he was sent to Guantánamo "because he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics." Eighteen months later, the camp authorities had satisfied themselves that he had no connection with the Taliban or al-Qaida, but decided against releasing him because his "timeline has not been fully established" and because British diplomats who had seen him in Kandahar had found him to be "cocky and evasive".

This is why we have trials.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:51 AM on October 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


This is why we have trials.

You mean those at The Hague? Yeah, Can't wait to see some leaders of state there.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I went to a meeting some time in 2009 or 2010, at which Jack Straw was speaking. Somebody must have asked him about the war crimes the Blair government committed--most likely about the unlawful invasion of Iraq, but I forget exactly--and he began a long and calm discourse on the issue of why they had never done anything wrong. I sat on the edge of my chair, shut my eyes, and thought: either I call out that he's a lying bastard, or I leave the room quick. I left. But by god I rue not having said what I wanted to.

I hope they are all prosecuted, in open courts, and properly punished for their crimes.
posted by Jehan at 12:16 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The greatest shame I have as an American is that my government pulled crap like this. The second greatest shame I have as an American is that there will be no trials. I hope to God things turn out differently in Britain.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:34 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


You mean those at The Hague? Yeah, Can't wait to see some leaders of state there.

I think you're probably going to wait an awfully long time, on these particular leaders of state.
posted by brennen at 12:45 PM on October 20, 2012


History, and International Trials, are created by the victors. Maybe our best hope is that a Romney Presidency will exceed even the venality and incompetence of the Bush/Cheney Administration, resulting in a black hole of malgovernance so dense it collapses in upon itself and is transported to another universe. In which case, my apologies to the other universe.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:56 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope they are all prosecuted, in open courts, and properly punished for their crimes.
I wish they would be but I can't see it happening. The Obama government neglected to close Guantanamo or prosecute any malfeasance. The Brits torture and deny.
History and ''Justice'' is written and administered by the winning side.
The little people get tortured, or blown up at their weddings. Security theatre is a huge international business and the secret prisons get fuller.
And look, look there 's something shiny over there.
Have any Politicians in the the US election (limited to voting for different sides of the same coin) mentioned closing any of these hell holes? Certainly not they don't exist. Move along move along.
posted by adamvasco at 12:58 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know, I know, it's unlikely. But sometimes there are small chinks of light. A few years ago there was a defense review which basically said that the "special relationship" was a load of bollocks. If the UK can shift--little by little--away from the US, there is hope that it can reform.
posted by Jehan at 1:05 PM on October 20, 2012


This is why we have trials.

If we gave them a trial, we might have to let them go.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Obama government neglected to close Guantanamo

You can make an argument that the Obama administration failed to explore every possible avenue to close Guantanamo but it is simply and patently false to say that they "neglected" to close Guantanamo. Obama signed an Executive Order to close Guantanamo as soon as he took office. The issue became highly controversial in Congress and they passed laws making it illegal for the Federal government to spend any money to bring the Guantanamo detainees to the US mainland. These laws had veto-proof support in the Senate.

I have never seen any serious account of what Obama could have done to change that dynamic--just vague handwaving about how if he'd been "tough" and "stood up" to Congress he could have changed their minds. This is roughly as convincing as Romney's claims that by being "tough" and "standing up" to Iran he's going to get it to abandon its nuclear ambitions and make everyone in the Middle East play nice.
posted by yoink at 2:27 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


we might have to let them go.

Right -- proving that the government had it wrong to begin with, that their whole torture regime is messed up and wrong.

And they cannot allow that to happen. People who are no real threat will stay in prison forever, so that these assholes can save face.
posted by Malor at 2:29 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


These laws had veto-proof support in the Senate.

But Obama didn't veto them, so, by definition, he did not explore every possible avenue. He signed that bill into law, so Guantanamo remaining open is absolutely his fault.

Maybe Congress would have overridden the veto, but maybe it wouldn't. Only his signature was certain to make that law reality, yet he put his pen to paper anyway.

The. buck. stops. there.
posted by Malor at 2:35 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The. buck. stops. there.

Most people don't know this but the back of that famous desk placard read "I'm from Missouri!"

It was especially infuriating to hear him blame congress for that failure when he was on The Daily Show two days ago.
posted by clarknova at 2:58 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One way around the issue would have been to approach the states, and find a state or states that would be willing to take the Guantanamo prisoners, and be willing to pay their National Guard units to go get them. They would likely never be reimbursed, it would simply be a local expense. As far as I can see, that would be outside Congress' remit altogether.
posted by Malor at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And in any case, concerning the veto, there is a difference between saying the support is veto-proof and actually making the bastards go out and veto it, and staining their reputations with the public statement I worked to keep Guantanamo open.
posted by JHarris at 4:27 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Adamvasco's last link refers to the British Foreign Office's records stored at Hanslope Park. These are massive archives and include a lot of records that should have been destroyed - which people had been ordered to destroy - but which somehow survived. A huge amount of material relating to British atrocities committed in Kenya have been revealed by lawyers acting for people tortured during the Mau-Mau uprising, and there is very good reason to think that the archives contain records relating to British war crimes and atrocities committed against civilians in other colonies and places under British control. I'm talking about very substantial things here - death squads; private prison camps; false-flag terrorist operations; and so forth.

I think it is impossible to consider the similarity between these events and the current revelations without coming to the conclusion that the Foreign Office has an entrenched cultural history of How Things Are Done - how to authorise things without authorising them; how to encapsulate atrocities so that they are insulated from investigators; how to set terms of reference so that any inquiry will inevitably fail. I sometimes wonder how far back it goes - at least to the Boer War, I should think, but the precedents might reach back to the days of Australian colonisation. Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change, because anyone in a position of power has either been compromised by the events themselves - the way Barack Obama is now compromised - or is vulnerable to other powerful people, who are themselves compromised. We are paralysed by our history and we cannot stop the atrocities.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:36 PM on October 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe Congress would have overridden the veto, but maybe it wouldn't. Only his signature was certain to make that law reality, yet he put his pen to paper anyway.

Congress would have loved the chance to play that card. The only reason Congress wrote this into the law was because public sentiment was almost entirely opposed to bringing these "dangerous terrorists" to the mainland, where they would use their Super Terrorist powers to fly out of jail and wreak havoc in the streets.

Yes, Obama could have chosen to make a stand on this for the sake of looking good to a relatively small contingent of his base. He would, of course, have been trading significant political capital for that rather dubious victory.
posted by yoink at 6:23 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope they are all prosecuted, in open courts, and properly punished for their crimes.

I think being denounced by Desmond Tutu is about as close as Blair will ever come to facing justice.
posted by homunculus at 8:04 PM on October 20, 2012


It was especially infuriating to hear him blame congress for that failure when he was on The Daily Show two days ago.

Parsing Obama on Guantanamo
posted by homunculus at 8:08 PM on October 20, 2012


Congress would have loved the chance to play that card.

You can make that kind of argument about literally anything at all. All positive actions are the inverse of negative actions, and possibly have undesirable consequences. You can paralyze yourself with the array of possible counters and responses to the things you do. At some point, you have to decide which is more important to you: the array of possible negative consequences, or the positive thing itself. In the field I gather this is called spending political capital. Talk is cheap, but this is the only real measure of whatever it is the hell you stand for.
posted by JHarris at 8:13 PM on October 20, 2012


(I probably could have put that more eloquently, but it becomes more comprehensible towards the end.)
posted by JHarris at 8:15 PM on October 20, 2012


> Yes, Obama could have chosen to make a stand on this for the sake of looking good to a relatively small contingent of his base. He would, of course, have been trading significant political capital for that rather dubious victory.

Oh, how I love 2012, when the idea of getting the country to obey the law is not even considered worth doing.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:38 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes. If you believe Bush and Cheney are war criminals there is no sane way to believe Obama is not one also. He has continued and expanded upon almost all of Bush's foreign policy. He has asserted he can murder any US citizen anywhere in the world, because he feels like it.

I'm sorry if they make some people uncomfortable, but these are just facts. The (rather significant, actually) bright side of a Romney administration would be that there would be an opposition again. All the awful violations of the Constitution that suddenly became fine when "our guy" was doing them will instantly become the subject of howls of protest again.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


He has asserted he can murder any US citizen anywhere in the world, because he feels like it.

And he has done so. It's not just an assertion.
posted by Malor at 5:10 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can make that kind of argument about literally anything at all. All positive actions are the inverse of negative actions, and possibly have undesirable consequences. You can paralyze yourself with the array of possible counters and responses to the things you do. At some point, you have to decide which is more important to you: the array of possible negative consequences, or the positive thing itself. In the field I gather this is called spending political capital. Talk is cheap, but this is the only real measure of whatever it is the hell you stand for.

Yeah, and sometimes, because you live in the real world and have actual information about it, you know perfectly well, in advance, what the result will be and whether that expenditure of political capital is worthwhile. I'm not sure why some liberals insist on sticking their hands over their ears and singing "la la la la la I can't heaaaaaar you" about these things. It's like the hilarious notion that if Obama had just "hung tough" he'd have got Ben Nelson to vote for single-payer health care reform. No, he wouldn't have--he'd have just deep-sixed the entire project of healthcare reform for the sake of cheap grandstanding.

He has asserted he can murder any US citizen anywhere in the world, because he feels like it.

This is simply a lie.
posted by yoink at 7:53 AM on October 21, 2012


He has asserted he can murder any US citizen anywhere in the world, because he feels like it.

This is simply a lie.


It is perhaps a slight exaggeration.
posted by bardophile at 8:15 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> > He has asserted he can murder any US citizen anywhere in the world, because he feels like it.

> This is simply a lie.

It is stated in an inflammatory way, but it is essentially the truth. There are no specific criteria that are now needed for the President to order someone killed. No doubt the President and his advisers goes through some deliberation procedure, but we have no idea what it is, no idea what the actual deliberations are, and no way to possibly second-guess the procedure - nor do we have any guarantee that this procedure is the same for each assassination.

Under the current lack-of-rules, the President can arbitrarily order the assassination of people anywhere, including Americans, under any criteria he chooses to select. The difference between that and "because he feels like it" are a matter of tone of voice only.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:58 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


emm, the order, if given, must fulfill one criteria:Does this person constitute a severe threat to the national security of the United States.

it's a start.
posted by clavdivs at 10:47 AM on October 21, 2012


And, demonstrably, 'constituting a severe threat to the United States' seems to include merely presenting the opposition's case in an engaging way.

Al-Alwaki died because he was an effective spokesperson, not because he was a threat. He was nowhere near a battlefield when he was assassinated, and there's no particular evidence he's been anywhere near one, certainly not evidence presented in court.

Extrajudicial death warrants are one of the most central tools of governments we have, historically, defined as evil.
posted by Malor at 11:23 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


the order, if given, must fulfill one criteria:Does this person constitute a severe threat to the national security of the United States.

But there is no publicly defined process by which that determination is made. This entirely discretionary method denies people the right to due process of law, a fundamental legal right in the US, and to my mind, a fundamental moral right.
posted by bardophile at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do realise that as Americans you do feel it is quite your right to immediately re-cast every single discussion in your domestic terms, but when an article is quite clearly about the UK, don't you sometimes think that perhaps you're being a bit rude, a bit off-topic, banging on about strictly US domestic politics?
posted by wilful at 4:13 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


George Monbiot still has a bounty on arresting Tony Blair for war crimes. The current pot: £7,262.67
posted by wilful at 4:16 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and sometimes, because you live in the real world and have actual information about it, you know perfectly well, in advance, what the result will be and whether that expenditure of political capital is worthwhile. I'm not sure why some liberals insist on sticking their hands over their ears and singing "la la la la la I can't heaaaaaar you" about these things.

Maye they're not? Maybe they're thinking: hey, we voted for him, maybe we gave him the political capital to spend on this, and he didn't?
posted by JHarris at 4:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


wilful, it is a related issue, although yeah it is a bit of a derail at this point.
posted by JHarris at 4:26 PM on October 21, 2012


RAF makes urgent purchase of five more Reaper drones, which will be the first to be controlled from a UK base.
posted by adamvasco at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2012




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