Torture: Britain asks its friends to do its dirty work

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailThe British government has been embarrassed by revelations that it has used ‘torture by proxy'. It was alleged that part of the UK's secret service, MI5, was involved in questioning suspects while they were being tortured by the secret services of Pakistan and the United States.

Binyam Mohamed was held without trial for six years, four of them in Guantanamo Bay. He says that the only evidence against him was obtained through torture. He alleges that he was tortured and interrogated in Pakistan, in Morocco (by the CIA) and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004, including being beaten and scalded and having his penis slashed with a scalpel. He says that MI5 supplied the CIA with questions and details of his life in the UK that was used in his interrogation process. He eventually ended up in Guantanamo Bay from where he has just been released, after a five-week hunger strike. Medical examinations show that he has endured long periods of physical and mental torture. Central to Binyam Mohammed's case are secret documents that show Britain was involved in his interrogation. The high court ruled that the documents could not be released because they would compromise national security. The basis of this possible breach of national security is that the USA would cease to co-operate with the UK government if it releases this information. This is embarrassing for Britain, which claims not to do this sort of thing.

The UK government was further embarrassed by a report from the US group Human Rights Watch. This report reveals that MI5 were helping the Pakistani secret service with their interrogations too. MI5 agents would ask questions of detainees and the Pakistani secret services would do the torturing. Not at the same time, for legal reasons, of course. The report gives details of ten Britons who they say were tortured in Pakistan and questioned by MI5. The report says that the events weren't just the result of ‘rogue agents' but occurred over a seven-year period with many different interrogators.

British democracy is no stranger to using torture. In "A short history of British torture" (WR 290) we described how Britain used torture on a large scale in Northern Ireland, Malaya and Kenya. But torture isn't just for the history books. The British government claims to be against the use of torture now, but their concern for the victims of torture is only for public consumption. If the law doesn't allow it to carry out torture in its own name then it can bypass that by asking a friend to do it instead.

The press and human rights groups' answer to torture is the observance of national and international law. Human Rights Watch is calling for an end to legal loopholes and has asked the UK government to put pressure on the Pakistani government to end torture. This seems unlikely if you read their World report 2008: "The United States and United Kingdom, the key external actors in Pakistan, remain focused on counterterrorism in their dealings with Pakistan, subordinating all other issues. The US, working closely with Pakistan's notoriously abusive Inter-Services Intelligence agency, has had a direct role in ‘disappearances' of counterterrorism suspects." The truth is that when it comes to defending their national interests all capitalist states, ‘democratic' or openly dictatorial, will use any means they deem necessary.  

Embla 28/2/9