UK Public Inquiry into Iraq Could Expose Torture Network Operated by Bush and Blaid
By Richard Walker
The CIA and the White House are watching nervously
as political and public pressure builds in Britain
for the truth to be told about the British role in facilitating the “rendition”
of suspects to CIA “black” sites and to pro-Western Middle East
intelligence services that routinely use torture.
Just like the clamor that forced the
British government to launch an open inquiry into the Iraq war there is now
similar pressure for a major investigation into whether the British government
of Tony Blair permitted British intelligence services to participate in the
rendition process and allowed the CIA to house “ghost detainees” at Britain’s
Diego Garcia air base in the Indian Ocean.
A human rights committee set up by both Houses
of the British Parliament waded into the fray on August 4, 2009, with a report
calling on the government to order an independent inquiry into whether Britain was
complicit in the alleged torture of detainees.
The committee also issued a stinging criticism
of the government for trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the issue. Some
commentators in Britain
believe this could have the effect of blowing the lid on rendition and torture.
Sir John Chilcot,
chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, speaks at a news conference on July 30 in
London. The head of a British inquiry into the Iraq war said he will
call former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bush administration officials
to testify, but acknowledged it
is unlikely that they would give any real evidence.
MATT DUNHAM/WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES
Craig Murray, a former British diplomat,
told the committee that when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, she ordered
the intelligence services to disregard any evidence, that they knew had been
acquired under torture. But Tony Blair changed that policy after 9-11. David
Davis, a former shadow cabinet minister, reacted to the committee’s recommendations
by saying he was certain Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown, had seen
evidence of Britain’s
“clear violations of its international obligations.”
For months, the Obama White House has
grown increasingly concerned that a British inquiry into rendition could expose
the history of the program and how the CIA did business with intelligence
services that tortured. Recently, Obama
instructed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to impress upon her British
counterpart, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the need for the British
government to keep rendition and intelligence acquisition classified matters.
After Clinton met Miliband in Washington,
he declared publicly that the U.S.
had a unique intelligence sharing relationship based on “fundamental principle
that they did not disclose each other’s intelligence publicly.” Nevertheless, deep
down Miliband must have known the rendition train had already left the station.
Most British politicians have made it
clear they are fed up with the drip-drip of information from government since
2005 when the practice of rendition was first made public. It took years for
the government to admit that at least two renditions took place through Diego
Now, MPs want to know why the Diego
Garcia flight records for 2002 to 2008 have vanished without trace. A further scandal has erupted over
revelations that the British intelligence agency, MI5, may have been aware of
the torture in Morocco of a
Bay detainee, Binyamin Mohammed.
Two high court judges have already said, from evidence they reviewed, they believe
MI5 sent the CIA questions to ask Mohammed while he was being interrogated.
In 2005, Blair and his then foreign
secretary, Jack Straw, gave the House of Commons an assurance that Britain had
never played any role in the rendition of suspects. In 2008, David Miliband was forced to
apologize to Parliament, saying the assurance given by Blair and Straw had been
inaccurate. That was followed by the home secretary publicly admitting in
February 2009 that Britain
had played a separate role in the rendition of two suspects from Iraq to U.S.
custody in Afghanistan. There have also been questions asked in
Parliament about a “ghost detainee,” Mustafa Naser, whose whereabouts have
remained a mystery since 2005. His wife has hired British lawyers to pursue the
case of her husband because one of their children was born in Britain. Naser is Spanish and a Spanish judge has
also launched an investigation into his disappearance. Two retired CIA officers
have told Naser’s lawyers he was in CIA custody in 2005 before being
transferred to Syrian intelligence for interrogation. The Spanish authorities have
sources that suggest he may still be held somewhere in Syria.
One of the cases that may open up the
British role in the CIA’s rendition program is that of Mohammed Madni, who was
pulled off the streets of Jakarta in Indonesia in
January, 2002, beaten and placed in American custody. His lawyers say he was
put in a coffin and flown by way of Diego Garcia to Cairo where he was tortured by Egyptian
intelligence. Later he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay
and eventually released without charge. According to Madni, the authorities at Guantanamo admitted they
had made a mistake and told him that when he was arrested in 2002 he had the misfortune
of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the British government is
forced through a court order to admit that Madni was rendered through Diego
Garcia, it will open the floodgates to a series of legal actions that could
in the dock of the European Human Rights Court. As Madni’s lawyers have pointed
out, if the Blair government knew suspects were being sent for interrogation to
countries like Syria and Egypt, they
also knew it was not for a Club Med experience.
The ongoing cases in Britain of men
who were rendered is very worrying for Washington because it could shine a light
into one of the most questionable and secret programs of the Bush era,
especially the CIA’s use of what were termed “black sites.” They were
facilities housed within prisons, detainee camps and on board ships in
While Diego Garcia is believed to have
housed at least two major al Qaeda suspects, other sites included “the Salt
Pit,” an old brick factory outside Kabul in Afghanistan, which was used as a
prison but had a sealed off section given over to the CIA. Szymany Airport
a former Soviet base, was another CIA interrogation and holding center. “Temara,”
an interrogation center within the headquarters of the Moroccan security
service, was the place where the British detainee, Binyam Mohamed, was held for
18 months. His British lawyers have assembled a large file of information about
his captivity including years he later spent at Guantanamo. They claim that while he was
being tortured in Morocco
his genitals were sliced with a knife. Two other CIA “black sites” were located within
the Eagle Base in Bosnia and
the Ariana Hotel in the center of Kabul,
which has been under CIA control since 2001. Camp Bucca, a detainee holding
facility in Iraq, close to the border with Kuwait, had within it a classified area
used only by the CIA. It was sometimes visited by members of allied and foreign
intelligence services. The two U.S.
ships that had CIA interrogation facilities were the USS Bataan and the USS
Peleliu. The Bataan was
previously used as a floating prison and rendition site during the Clinton era, which raises
questions about how long rendition has been a secret practice.
Many focus on
the Bush era as though rendition began then. But it clearly did not. During
Bill Clinton’s presidency, suspects were also “disappeared” and sent to
countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for interrogation.
That is why the ObamaWhite House and the CIA fear a wide-ranging investigation
of rendition in Europe. It could potentially open
up a can of worms and it might prove difficult to put the lid back on.
Blair was challenged recently about rendition, he shocked the Obama White
House by suggesting Obama would probably continue using aspects of rendition.
Some of Blair’s critics in Britain
said it was a typical example of Blair turning the spotlight on others to
shield himself. Of course, Blair has more to worry about than Obama, Bush or
Clinton. He sits at the heart of Europe with a
court system that would not flinch from trying him for crimes against humanity
if evidence pointed to his guilt. Some British lawyers argue that, if it could
be shown Blair approved rendition that led to torture, he could be brought
before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. From Obama’s perspective, he has
made it clear he does not wish to dwell on the past because it could divide the
country and complicate his presidency. However, the British inquiry into the
Iraq War has the potential to produce startling revelations and if the rendition
program was exposed too through yet another inquiry, both those events could
force Obama’s hand.
is a New York based writer and a former news
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(Issue # 33, August 17, 2009)