Posts Tagged ‘torture’


Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.

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Select committee issues two damning reports on UK’s role in torture

The Intelligence and Security Committee released its report in the UK’s role in torture on 28 June 2018 and this revealed the shocking extent of MI6’s involvement.  It is government policy, and the legal position, that the UK does not use torture nor does it outsource the practice to other agencies or governments.  It is counterproductive since under torture, victims are likely to say anything to get it to stop.  The evidence thus gleaned is of doubtful value as was dramatically shown in Iraq and our decision to invade.  It is also a key part of the Human Rights Act.  Article 3 protects you from:

– torture (mental or physical)
– inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and
– deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.
As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment.  Equality and Human Rights Commission

That we were involved in this activity has been known for some time although often the details were not available.  So were the denials and here is Jack Straw – the Home Secretary for much of the time when this was happening – claiming in an interview:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories 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, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.  Quoted by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2012 [accessed 3 July 2018]

Peter Oborne continued: After Mr Straw spoke out, further denials followed. Tony Blair insisted that Britain had never engaged in the practice.  Mr Straw’s successor, David Miliband, was equally adamant.  Sir John Scarlett, until recently head of the Secret Intelligence Service (and the official responsible for the notorious dossier of September 2002 which asserted that Saddam Hussein was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes) was forthright. “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” he said, adding that there was “no complicity in torture.  (ibid)

The scale of the activity revealed by this report was a surprise.  Up until the report was published it was known that the activity had taken place on a modest scale but the facts show otherwise:

• On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
• There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
• In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
• MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
• The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
• They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
• Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others.  Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
• In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
• MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
• No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
• The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• On at least two occasions ministers took “inappropriate” decisions.
• Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004. The Guardian 2 July 2018

Not that this is the full story.  The government prevented individual officers from giving evidence so there may well be more to come out in future.  On this matter, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty said:

It is obvious that the ISC was prevented by the Government from producing a thorough report about what really happened – it says so itself.  The ISC had no powers to summon witnesses or demand full evidence, and its findings were always subject to redaction and veto from the Prime Minister herself.  Instead of the independent, judge-led torture inquiry promised by David Cameron, we’ve had an under-powered, over-controlled review by a committee that was never empowered to get the job done.  While the Committee’s report represents a helpful step forwards, it is not the definitive account of what really happened. It was always the wrong tool for the job.
With the President of the United States personally praising waterboarding and the CIA led by someone closely linked to torture, now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. We need a full judge-led inquiry now.  Amnesty statement 

The Response

In the face of damning evidence and a considerable amount of research carried out by the committee over many years, one might have thought that a contrite response from the head of MI6 at the time, Sir Richard Dearlove, would be appropriate, if not a full apology.  Not a bit of it.  Here he is quoted in the Sun* newspaper:

As far as my former service is concerned, the mistreatment issue has been blown out of proportion by pressure from certain interest groups [one assumes Amnesty is among them].  There never was a systemic problem, and there are no skeletons in the cupboard from my time.  The staff served the nation magnificently and with due care for our respect for the law.  In extreme circumstances, there will always be incidents that one regrets.  But nothing illegal was perpetrated – which is as achievement given the extent of the provocation.  Warning of the chilling effect that the MPs’ withering criticism could have, the ex-spymaster added: It’s time to move on and not allow our willingness to take risks to be diminished.  The Sun 29 June 2018

No mea culpa there.  Quite what the ‘provocation’ is not explained.  Torture seems to be part of a need to ‘take risks’.  This quotation – if it is an accurate statement of his position – is disgraceful.  That the former head of the service brushes aside a comprehensive and detailed description of our – and his service’s role – in water boarding, stress positions and other forms of degrading treatment is utterly reprehensible.  His defence seems to rest on the fact that MI6 officers did not actually do the torturing themselves.

But he is not alone.  This is the Sun’s editorial position:

WHAT did we gain by MPs blowing five years probing what MI5 and MI6 knew of the US torture of terror suspects back in 2001?  Their report admits our spooks were directly involved only twice.  And if it extracted vital intelligence preventing further atrocities after 9/11, so what if we turned a blind eye?  Yes, torture is barbaric.  But the CIA firmly believes it saved lives.  Would those people wringing their hands over it prefer to have risked thousands more being massacred by al-Qaeda?

Still perpetuating the myth that torture is necessary and saves lives.

As a nation we pride ourselves on civilised behaviour.  We promote such behaviour around the world and in the UN.  We are signatories to key treaties and it is government policy that we do not torture people.  We have the Human Rights Act which prohibits it.  Government ministers constantly claim that such practices are alien to our culture and way of doing things.  We have a fundamental sense of decency it is claimed.  However, Peter Beaumont, a journalist with the Observer, says over the years he has ‘been lied to a lot’.

British intelligence officers, despite all the denials, were aware of the mistreatment, they benefited from it and even supplied their own questions for the victims of mistreatment despite knowing those being interrogated were being brutalized.  1 July 2018 

Even now, people like Sir Richard Dearlove are in denial.  The government has done all it can to frustrate the enquiry and to prevent it getting to the truth.  Jack Straw and others have many questions to answer.


Joint statement by human rights organisations

*a tabloid newspaper part of the Murdoch group in the UK.

 


Theresa May’s visit to China and human rights

The human rights situation in China is dire.  The list is long and includes excessive use of the death penalty.  The numbers are unknown because they are a state secret but are believed to be in the thousands.  China leads the world and may even execute more than the rest of the world put together.  Torture is common.  There is precious little freedom of speech and journalists reporting in China quickly find police arriving and stopping any interviews.  Under its current premier, repression has increased significantly.

The Great Firewall of China prevents contact with the outside world.  Lawyers and activists are monitored, harassed, arrested and detained.  Religions have a difficult time practising there.  Finally there is Tibet and the poor treatment of Tibetans.  China is a leading exporter of torture equipment including devices that one might have thought to be confined to the middle ages.  Altogether, China infringes nearly all international norms of good behaviour and it matters especially because they are one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But they are a massive and growing economy and countries want to do business there.  None more so than the UK which hopes to increase trade following our departure from the European Union.  Hence the prime minister’s visit there this week.  As ever with these visits the question of human rights is brought up.  There is a kind of dance performed where the prime minister or her spokespeople claim the matter is brought up and the Chinese say nothing was said.  The Chinese are very sensitive on the subject and historical memories of the Opium wars and the resultant national humiliation are still keenly felt.

But China wants to be considered a modern country yet its dreadful reputation in the way it treats its citizens and minorities holds it back.

It’s not often we get an insight into what was actually said but after this visit, an editorial in the Global Times waxed lyrical over the visit and praised Mrs May for not mentioning human rights.  The prose is odd but the relevant passages are:

[…]

May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip either.  For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the British media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.

China’s robust development has instilled impetus for Europe to overcome its prejudices against Beijing.  David Cameron’s government gained Britain strategic initiative by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some European media pressed May and Macron on human rights, but the two leaders sidestepped the topic on their China trips.  This shows that the Sino-European relationship has, to a large degree, extricated itself from the impact of radical public opinion.  Leader 2 February 2018

The central problem is that China is a one-party state where dissent is not permitted.  Hence the crackdowns, arrests and suppression of free speech.  As time goes by however, more and more Chinese will travel the world and despite the great wall, gain access to the internet (we note some hits from China on this little site!).  As the country develops, more and more Chinese will look for freedom and to criticize the politicians.  So the Chinese authorities will find it harder and harder – and more expensive – to maintain the status quo.  The denial of human rights therefore is not some kind of esoteric luxury or the west seeking to impose its moral order on them.  It is a crucial part of their development and ramping up repression and arrests is taking the country in quite the wrong direction.

Failure – if failure it was – by Mrs May to bring up the issue of human rights would not have been just another lecture from a western liberal (if that term can be applied to Mrs May) but a crucial issue for the Chinese themselves as they develop into the world’s largest nation.

 

 

 

 

 


Ice and Fire perform the Asylum Monologues in Salisbury

Asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees get a poor press in the United Kingdom especially at the tabloid end of the market.  They are

Daily Express front page: 2014

described in biblical terms as ‘flooding’ into the country, of consuming a large part of the benefits budget, taking jobs and houses from British people and driving down wages.  Immigrants and asylum seekers are labelled ‘illegal’ and a picture is constantly painted of crisis levels of immigration doing harm to the country.  A Daily Express front page is illustrated but many such pages and headlines could be here instead.  It cannot be denied that there are problems arising from immigration but the lack of balance in the reporting is to be regretted.

The benefits brought to the nation rarely get a mention.  Indeed, it was revealed by Sir Vince Cable recently that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, suppressed nine reports showing such benefits.  On balance the economy of the country is in credit as far as the effect of immigrants are concerned.

Ice and Fire

Asylum seekers (who are never illegal asylum seekers) are part of those seeking to settle here.  On Monday 18 September 2017, Ice and Fire performed Asylum Monologues at Sarum College in the Close.  Ice and Fire are a group of actors who tour the country and read testimonies from people who have experienced traumatic events in their home countries who have made it to this country and are seeking asylum.  The testimonies change over time as new events unfold.

Ice and Fire. L to r: Liz; Chris & Emily. Pic: Salisbury Anesty

The first testimony was of a woman who left Uganda.  She had campaigned for women’s rights.  To do so risked being called a ‘rebel’.  Then 20 soldiers arrived in the village one day and took her to an army prison.  There she was severely mistreated, tortured and raped in front of her husband.  After 4 months she – along with four others – managed to escape three of whom were shot.  Recaptured, she was taken to a ‘safe’ house which was quite the opposite for its inmates.  Finally, she managed to escape to England possibly with the aid of her husband (she did not know).  She never saw him again.

She was in such a dreadful physical state on arrival she was taken to hospital and put on a drip.  She was pregnant but it was too late to have a termination.  Then began the process of seeking leave to remain with the Home Office.  This was an extremely lengthy process, and akin to a kind of ‘mental torture’ she said because it went on so long and you never knew how it would end.  At one point she was at risk of being deported back to Uganda and being tortured again.  After a long process of appeals she eventually won her indefinite leave to appeal.  Using DNA analysis she was reunited with her daughter she had not seen for eight years.

The second testimony was of a successful businessman from Syria who had seen his businesses looted and finally left the country and via Turkey and Greece made it to the UK.

Border Agency

But arguably the most chilling testimony was of someone called Louise who used to work for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff.  It was hard to believe that the things she described took place in this country and not somewhere in some despotic state.  On her first day her line manager said about children seeking asylum ‘if it was up to me I would take them out and shoot them.’  Conceivably, this could be an example of black humour albeit in poor taste, but it was said in all seriousness.

She was given combat training because some of the claimants are potentially dangerous.  She asked the trainer how many cases in three years have you granted asylum to and the reply was 3.  Just three.

The prevailing ethos of the Agency was not to let anyone in if at all possible.  The most chilling aspect to her story was the ‘Grant Monkey’.  This was not some kind of reward for good work but was placed on someone’s desk if they allowed a claim to succeed.  It was designed as a ‘mark of shame’.  Perhaps the one achievement resulting from her whistle-blowing was that this loathsome practice no longer exists.  One of the problems she said was people were recruited from university with no other experience of life and were put on the front line.  She said there was need for a Macpherson style Report into the Agency.  This was the 1999 report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence which shone light on race relations in the UK and coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’.

Juxtaposing testimonies of people who have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their lives including rape and torture and who may have lost all their worldly goods in the process of escaping, with the attitude of our Border Agency was decidedly shaming.  There is no denying that some people claiming asylum are far from deserving cases and may even people who have perpetrated terrible actions on others.  So there is need for rigorous scrutiny of claims.  This is different from treating all such people in the way they do.  Basic rights are not allowed during interviews of immigrants who may be vulnerable and traumatized.

This was an excellent performance and we hope to invite the group back again in the future.


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Sport being used to whitewash unsavoury regimes

When we turn to our sports pages, we expect to read about who is beating Britain at cricket, the latest in the long-running saga of the English football team or Andy Murray’s latest exploits on the tennis courts.  We do not expect to read about human rights or to see quotes from organisations like Human Rights Watch or this one – Amnesty.  They are to be found on the news pages surely.

But on Tuesday 18 July, the Guardian in the UK devoted nearly two whole pages in its sports section to the sponsorship by Bahrain of a range of sporting activities and sportsmen in an effort to create a more favourable image for itself.

And it needs to.  The country has a quite appalling record of human rights abuses.  These include torture, in particular beatings and the use of electric shocks.  Freedom of assembly has been severely restricted and peaceful protests have been violently put down.  Nabeel Rajaab – a human rights defender is in prison.

Alan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty said:

It seems pretty clear that the Bahraini authorities have stepped up efforts to associate the country with major sporting events as glitzy cover for an ever-worsening human rights crackdown.  For the most part, Bahrain’s harnessing of the glamour and prestige of sport has helped deflect attention from the arrests of peaceful critics, reports of tortured detainees, unfair trials and death sentences.

But you would not know this from the sports pages where all is glamour and excitement.  Pictured is the Olympic gold winner

Alistair Brownlee. Pic nztri.co.nz

Alistair Brownlee – featured in the Guardian article – promoting a Bahrain sponsored event.  Other sports include F1 motor racing, football with FIFA siting its conference in the country and cycling.  Spokesmen for the various organisations involved in laundering Bahrain’s image claim that they are not competent authorities to assess the human rights violations taking place there.  There are also claims that the sporting activities will help overcome the problems.  This might have a grain of truth if during coverage, human rights issued were raised by commentators.  Of that there has been no sign.

Bahrain cycling team colours. Photo; Bettini

Their promotional activities are not limited to sport as members of the UK’s Royal family have been pressed into service.  Her majesty the Queen herself welcomed King Hamad to the Royal Windsor horse show and there are pictures of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew with various members of the Bahraini royal family.

We do not have to look far for reasons for this rolling out of the red carpet for members of this royal family as it is our old friend arms sales which are behind it.  It led Theresa May to visit the country last year.  As CAAT reports we are keen to foster arms sales there including Typhoon jets and we have established a naval base at Mina Salman.  Defence clearly trumps human rights considerations.

At present, the sportsmen and women can collect their fees and promotional monies free in the knowledge that the majority of those reading of their sporting achievements probably do not concern themselves too much with goes on in the countries like Bahrain and how they treat their own citizens.  And only rarely do the stories touch on these matters since sport seems to exist in a kind of box as far the rest of coverage is concerned.  Sport, money and politics are now closely entwined.  Sports stars enjoy huge acclaim and some have a large fan base.  They have huge influence over the young who spend large sums on their merchandise.  This is a big responsibility.

But is it too much to ask that sporting people should have a conscience and should be concerned that their names and images are being used to hide serious abuses taking place?  Where a regime such as Bahrain is using sport to whitewash its reputation then sporting people should be aware of the role they are playing and the harm they are doing.  Should they not be concerned that they are being used by these regimes?


An Amnesty post on this topic

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Boys at risk of execution in Somalia

This is an all too familiar story of poor justice which has led to the execution already of five boys with two more at risk.

The story is that seven boys were arrested in December 2016 for allegedly killing three high ranking officials.  The boys were held in shipping containers for around 2 weeks before being transferred to a police station.  Two of the boys said they were subjected to various forms of torture including electrocution; burning with cigarettes on their genitals; beatings; drownings and rape.  Confessions were secured.

They were then tried before a military court with no other evidence other than the confessions.  They were denied access to a lawyer.  At the Appeal they were denied access to lawyers as well.

The two remaining boys – Muhamed Yasin Abdi who is 17 and Saud Saied Sahal, 15, are still in detention and are at risk of execution.

If you can spare some time to write or email that would be appreciated.  Full details on the link below.

Urgent Action: Somalia


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Donald Trump’s favourable comments on the use of torture have put this topic back on the agenda

As early as the third century A.D, the great Roman Jurist Ulpian noted that information obtained through torture was not to be trusted because some people are “so susceptible to pain that they will tell any lie rather than suffer it”.

President Trump said last week that ‘torture absolutely works’ and threatened its use at Guantanamo.  I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally but do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.”  It now seems he is resiling from this after an outcry.

Amnesty disagrees that torture works.  And here’s five reasons why…

1: Torture is illegal under international law.  It reflects the widespread belief that torture is cruel, inhumane and morally wrong.  The physical and psychological damage it causes is often permanent. Even if it was effective, it would still be wrong.

2: No ends justify torture as a means. You might be able get useful information out of torture in the short term, but in the long term it’s counter-productive.  It does more damage to the reputation of the country that commits torture than any criminal or terrorist. Statistics prove that American use of torture is Al Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.

3: Torture produces false intelligence.  Some victims will say anything to make the torture stop.  At best this wastes only time and resources.  At worst people may be implicated and even convicted for crimes they did not commit, on the basis of false evidence.

4: While it remains illegal, information extracted through torture cannot be used as evidence in court of law.  It actually makes it harder to bring people to justice for any crime they have committed.

5: You can’t condone torture even in ‘special cases’, otherwise it becomes normalised and a “torture culture” emerges across the chain of command. In the USA the CIA used waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, and low-ranking soldiers tortured for sport in grotesque ways in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq.

Of the more than 700 men held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, many are now acknowledged as ‘merely guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Originally described as “the worst of the worst,” by Vice President Cheney, many were subjected to torture particularly waterboarding.  More than 400 of these men have now been released or cleared for release (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2009).

A common justification for the use of torture is the implausible ticking-time-bomb scenario.  This is beloved by Hollywood and was the opening scene in the TV series 24 staring Kiefer Sutherland.  It rests on several questionable assumptions: that a specific piece of “actionable” information could be used to avert the disaster; that somehow interrogators know for certain that the suspect possesses specific information about the location of the bomb; that the threat is imminent; that only torture would lead to disclosure of the information; and that torture is the fastest means of extracting this valid, actionable information. 

Of course, part of the appeal of this scenario is that it also portrays the torturer as a principled, heroic figure who reluctantly uses torture to save innocent lives. This carefully rigged, forced-choice scenario pits the temporary pain of one evil person against the deaths of thousands (or even millions) of innocent people.  And, once we have acknowledged that there might possibly be a situation where torture could yield precious, life-saving information, it is then a small step to conclude that we are sometimes morally obliged to use torture.  While this scenario might provide a useful stimulus for discussion in college ethics courses, or an interesting plot device for a television drama, there seems no evidence that it has ever occurred.  As one scholar put it, “Even though torture is not, on balance, effective or rational, it persists through its deep psychological appeal, to the powerful and the powerless alike, in times of crisis. The reality of torture is unpleasant as one FBI agent put it:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more.  FBI agent on visiting Guantanamo

CIA report

Picture: Washington Post

The Inspector General of the CIA conducted a review in 2004 and although great chunks of the report were redacted, they found that interrogators assumed detainees were withholding valuable information but this was not always supported by objective evaluation of available information.  Guilt was assumed despite the dubious nature of their capture.  Very little actionable information was obtained and there was little evidence to show that it could not have been got by ordinary means.

Morality

Setting aside its effectiveness – or rather lack of it – the main objection is morality.  Around the world governments and the various agencies working for them, use torture sometimes routinely to brutalise, suborn, humiliate and coerce their citizens.  Amnesty has credible evidence that it is used by 141 countries.  As the leader of the free world, America should be setting an example not joining with the sordid list of countries still carrying out this barbaric practice.

We hope President Trump’s change of mind is permanent.


Sources: Amnesty International; CIA, Inspector General Report, 2004; New York Times

The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture and an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate Costanzo, Mark, Gerrity Ellen, in Social Issues and Policy Review, Vol 3, No: 9 2009


College of Policing in fresh controversy

Updated : 23 November

The College of Policing is involved in fresh controversy today concerning their training of police in countries that regularly use torture.  In the summer it was revealed that they had training large numbers of Saudi and Bahraini police and that this training has aided them to arrest protestors who were then tortured.

On the BBC’s World at One radio programme there was an interview with a woman who’s husband had been arrested and disappeared for a month.  She alleges he was “subjected to the worst kind of physical and psychological abuse”, they beat him brutally and concentrated these beatings on his genitals.

Reprieve has published a report detailing the allegations against Mohammed Ramadan.  It now appears that the release of the information and documents about the College of Police’s activities was not meant to have happened and was as a result of ‘human error.’  From now on, details of the College’s activities will not be disclosed.

The Foreign Office maintains that the best way to improve human rights in these countries is by engagement and that we should not criticize from the sidelines.  Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:

Human rights assessments are quite bleak [in these countries] and it is going to reinforce the arguments of those who are against engagement

Quit so.  So the worse it is, the better the justification for our engagement.  This might be fine of course if by ‘engagement’, there was some kind of visible or tangible improvement.  But it seems our involvement makes matters worse not better.  As Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve comments on their website:

It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian and Bahraini officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death

Earlier in the year, the Home Affairs select committee strongly criticised the College of Policing and the secretive way they had gone about this work.  The Chief executive had apparently been told by the Foreign and Colonial Office not to answer questions for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.

The argument that closer integration with unpleasant regimes yields positive benefits could have some merit.  If by trading, cultural contacts, training schemes, and other contacts – social or economic – good behaviour (however defined)  rubs off onto the regime then that can be claimed as a benefit.

But the suspicion with the College of Policing and other commercial activities in the region, is that it is profit and money driven with little more than lip-service given to ethics and human rights.  It is all of a piece with our arms sales to the Saudis which are causing such devastation in Yemen.

One would have expected that the College of Policing of all organisations, to have ethics and human rights at the top of their agenda.  The police have some ground to make up following a number of scandals like Hillsborough.  Helping repressive regimes to be more efficiently repressive hardly fits the bill.  Making it secret is a tacit admission that they have something to hide.

Sources: Sputnik; The Guardian; Reprieve; World at One (BBC)


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Independent judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture needed
No one should be subject to torture

Article 5: No one should be subject to torture. Image from the tapestry

Amnesty International believes that there is credible evidence that the UK has been involved in grave human rights violations perpetrated against people held overseas by other authorities since the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001.

The UN Convention Against Torture states that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture’.  It also states there should be a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe an act of torture has been committed.

The Human Rights Act 1998 also prohibits torture under any circumstances, and that obligation implicitly requires a prompt independent investigation of credible allegations – the more so when there appears to be a ‘systemic’ problem.   The existence of evidence requires the establishment of an independent, impartial and thorough judge-led inquiry, now.  Credible allegations implicate the UK in torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detentions and renditions.  Over the years, Amnesty International and others have documented cases of the UK’s involvement in these abuses, including:

  • UK personnel were present at interrogations of detainees held unlawfully overseas in circumstances in which the UK knew, or ought to have known, that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful and even that they participated in such interrogations  
  • UK personnel provided information (e.g. telegrams sent by UK intelligence personnel to intelligence services of other countries) that led the USA and other countries to apprehend and detain individuals when the UK knew or ought to have known that these people would then be at risk of torture and/or unlawful detention    
  • The UK was involved in the US-led programme of renditions and secret detentions through, for example, the use of UK territory (e.g. Diego Garcia) and/or airspace    
  • UK personnel forwarded questions to be put to individuals detained by other countries in circumstances in which the UK knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful 
  • The UK systematically received information extracted from people detained overseas in circumstances in which it knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of torture and/or whose detention was unlawful.

Testimony
A number of individuals – including former Guantánamo Bay detainees – have spoken publicly about UK involvement in their mistreatment.  Shaker Aamer, who was released from Guantánamo in October 2015, after nearly 14 years without charge or trial, has said for example that a UK official was in the room when his head was beaten against a wall.

Binyam Mohamed

Binyam Mohamed

In 2008 the High Court confirmed that the UK, through its security service MI5, had facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in the knowledge that his initial detention in Pakistan was unlawful. Then, during a two-year period, the UK continued to facilitate interviews conducted on behalf of the US authorities when it must have realised that Binyam Mohamed was being held unlawfully by a third country and knew or ought to have known that there was a real risk that he was being tortured.

Proper investigation needed

stop torture

Image: Amnesty Paris

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has now been given the task of investigating allegations of UK complicity in torture, but Amnesty International, along with many other anti-torture organisations including the UN, believes that the ISC is wholly unsuited to the task in hand.  The structural limitations of the ISC, particularly its lack of power and independence from government, means that any investigation the ISC conducts is unlikely to get to the truth, and cannot satisfy the UK’s human rights obligations. The ISC is not a traditional Parliamentary committee, even though it is made up of parliamentarians.  Ministers ultimately decide what evidence the Committee can see, with the Prime Minister controlling what it can publish and even who can be a member. Crucially, the government retains the right to withhold information considered to be “sensitive” or on grounds of national security from the ISC.  The definition of what constitutes sensitive information is extremely broad and notably includes information provided by a foreign intelligence agency which can object to further disclosure of that information.  Any Secretary of State can determine material is sensitive and in the interests of national security should not be disclosed to the ISC.

Poor record
The ISC has a poor record in holding the intelligence services to account. In 2007, three years after the rendition of the Libyan families, the ISC produced a report which said that there was “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any “Extraordinary Rendition” operations.”

Historical context
In July 2010, the Prime Minister promised to establish an independent inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in torture and other human rights violations with respect to individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations.  At the time, David Cameron specifically ruled out the possibility of the ISC carrying out the investigation, recognising that an inquiry led by a judge who is “fully independent of Parliament, party and Government” was required “to get to the bottom of the case”.

In 2011 the Detainee Inquiry was established, led by the retired judge Sir Peter Gibson.  Amnesty International and a number of other organisations felt that the Detainee Inquiry fell short of the UK’s international human rights obligations and domestic obligations under the Human Rights Act to fully and independently investigate allegations of UK involvement in torture and other ill-treatment.  Of most concern was that the government retained final say on what material could be disclosed to the public and that the protocol did not provide for an independent mechanism to decide on disclosure of national security material.

In January 2012 the Detainee Inquiry was suspended, after Scotland Yard announced a criminal investigation into joint UK/Libyan operations which had resulted in the rendition of Libyan opposition figures. Those investigations are ongoing.

In December 2013 the Detainee Inquiry interim report was published.  It highlighted that the evidence it had received indicated that UK agents were aware of abuse of some detainees by other governments and that the UK government may have been involved in rendition.  It outlined 27 separate issues that should be subjected to further investigation. Amnesty and others expected this to be followed by a proper full judge led inquiry.

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Instead, on 19 December 2013, it was announced that the ISC had been tasked with examining allegations of UK complicity in torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held overseas, which had previously been the subject of the Detainee Inquiry.  In September 2015 Dominic Grieve was appointed as the new Chair of the ISC.  There is as yet no news on its work in this area.


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No end in sight

This is the title of a report produced by Amnesty International concerning the use of torture in China.  It was only last month that China’s president received a red carpet treatment on his visit to Britain with smiles all round.  The subject of human rights was taboo and was not to be mentioned during the course of his visit.  The aim was to boost trade and to secure deals such as the nuclear power plant investment.

Human rights infringements are a major issue for China and there is always the hope that there will be a steady improvement over time.  Indeed, it is a favourite argument by politicians that engagement – whether through trade, culture, sport or otherwise – is the best way to effect improvements in countries still practising torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.

Only it doesn’t seem to be working in places like Saudi Arabia or China despite the huge effort put into engagement with their leaders.  Amnesty has just published No End in Sight which shows that if anything, it is getting worse.  Despite having signed up to UN Charter against torture, it is still widely practised in all its medieval brutality.

Tiger bench

Tiger bench

The rot seems to start in police stations and the system of securing confessions acts as an incentive to extract one, by force if necessary.  The methods are extremely unpleasant and the least graphic (though no lest brutal) is the ‘tiger bench’ illustrated left.

The report explains the weak nature of the justice system which means no meaningful enquiries are made and that lawyers are themselves coerced or threatened if they try too hard to stop it.

It is alarming that this major nation, which is a member of the Security Council and is thus in a position to influence a lot of what happens in the world, should be steadily getting worse not better as far as human rights are concerned.  It is disappointing that the opportunity to express our concerns was apparently not taken during President Xi’s visit.


Sources

The Independent;

The Guardian;

Amnesty report