Suppressing Evidence: UK Complicity in Torture

Last Saturday, I went to see Polly Nash and Andy Worthington’s harrowing documentary Outside the Law, Tales from Guantánamo at London’s BFI.

The film knits together narratives so heart-wrenching I half wish I had not heard them. Yet the camaraderie between the detainees and occasional humorous anecdotes, such as Binyam Mohammed’s false confession that he tried to induce nuclear fission on April 1st, provide a glimpse into the wit, courage and normalcy of the men we are encouraged to perceive as monsters.

Nash and Worthington’s film also explores the legal and pragmatic implications of our transatlantic freefall into ethical bankruptcy. It asks how we might navigate our way out of a situation that doesn’t legally exist. The answer is: with great difficulty. With lawyers like Clive Stafford-Smith working tirelessly to defend people who have not been accused of a crime and have no evidence against them to refute, the courtroom has become the domain in which we watch the dream of European multiculturalism imploding. Here we see UK Muslims struggle to exert Enlightenment-based Common Law against a so-called civilized, liberal government who would apparently prefer the Magna Carta had never been written.1

Two weeks ago the Foreign Secretary David Miliband lost his long legal battle to suppress a section (known as paragraph 168) from a court decree revealing that MI5 officers were involved in the torture of ex terror suspect and British resident, Binyam Mohamed. Up until now the testimonies of released British Residents Omar Deghayes, Mozzam Begg and Binyam Mohamed have not been fully absorbed by the British public. This is despite the fact Omar Deghayes entered Cuba with two eyes but came home with one. Many news consumers prefer to maintain that detainee accounts of asphyxiation, physical torment, sexual and religious abuse, were either deserved, fabricated or necessary. Others can not contemplate that a nation proudly branding itself on civil liberties, tolerance and ‘fair play’ could willfully throw us back into the medieval barbarism of the Norman Conquests. Yet, as Miliband’s credibility crumbles in the light of his failed cover-up, so the plausibility of Binyam Mohammed’s testimony gains ground. The tide is changing.

Recently, the Court of Appeal also stated that it had withstood ‘unprecedented bullying’ from the Foreign and Home Secretary to withdraw 168 from its ruling. However, Miliband’s plee was overturned by independent judges and we now know the report stated that British treatment of Binyam Mohammed was “at the very least cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” David Miliband dismissed the testimony of this particular British resident, whose torments included having razor blades applied to his penis, as ‘ludicrous lies.’

The independent judge apparently disagrees with our delightful foreign secretary. He warns that the integrity our government is now under serious dispute and suggests that Miliband has an undisclosed agenda.

“Not only is there an obvious reason for distrusting any UK Government assurance, based on SyS (secret services) advice and information, because of previous “form”, but the Foreign Office and the SyS have an interest in the suppression of such information.”

Shaker Aamer, the Witness from Battersea

Perhaps the most disturbing and crucial aspect of Tales fromGuantánamo is that it spotlights the continuing illegal incarceration of South Londoner, Shaker Aamer. All British residents have been discharged from Guantánamo. Yet despite being officially cleared for release in 2008, Aamer remains impounded in a 6 foot by 8 foot cell, tortured, humiliated and, according to reports, force fed through a pipe routed to his stomach via his nose. At 8 stone, he has lost over half his body weight. His wife, the mother of their 4 children continues to live in London where she has been treated for a succession of nervous break downs since her husband was seized.

There is no justification offered as to why this Aamer has been singled out. No evidence has transpired to counter his claim that he was in Afghanistan in 2002 to help construct schools as part of his religious duty of zakat. It is believed that Aamer’s conspicuous eloquence, linguistic talents and charisma identified him within the gates of Guantánamo, as a exceptional case. He orchestrated collective hunger strikes, translated fluently between Arabic and English and inspired his fellow inmates to demand their rights. He was treated by detainees as a holy man, a leader. He was punished accordingly.

Speculation surrounding Aamer’s continued detention pivots on the numerous ‘suicides’ he is alleged to have seen, the severity of the torture he has endured and his claims that it was, in part, executed on the behest of British agents. It is widely believed that should Binyam Mohammed’s case progress, Shaker Aamer would be a leading witness against British authorities, cementing evidence that could transfer the label of ‘criminal’ from the defendant to the accuser: namely Whitehall. Back in November last year the Independent’s law editor Robert Verkaik predicted Aamer’s release would be detrimental to the reputation of the UK government.

“The case is potentially more damaging to Britain than that of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed because British agents are accused of being present during Mr Aamer’s alleged torture. In one allegation an MI5 agent is said to have been present when Mr Aamer’s US interrogators banged his head against a wall.”

As calls for a full judicial inquiry gather pace, we may well ask why on earth Miliband persists in attempting to thwart evidence in this degrading farce we call Justice. His CV so far for defending the interests of Britain abroad, is not great. Since he took the job he gave Britain’s blessing to Israel’s massacre in Operation Cast Lead,((Less than a month before Israel launched its assault on Gaza Miliband visited the Israeli town of Sderot. He said, “Israel should, above all, seek to protect its own citizens. It’s very important that counties like mine and others show solidarity with the people of Sderot…. Israeli people need to know that the British people know of Sderot, and we know of the tragedy they are facing, and we stand with them.”)) he maintained Britain abstain from voting against the Goldstone Report, he intervened in Polish domestic politics slandering a popular MEP as an ‘anti-Semite’ and he has stood limply in the wings giving lip service to the Mossad’s use of British passports in their assassination last month. Worryingly, it seems the concerns of British sovereignty do not feature high on Miliband’s list of priorities. If they did we could expect that, instead of pushing for a re-write of the law to enable war criminal Tzipi Livni tio visit the UK without charge, Miliband might consider adhering to the law that has protected our rights for the last 800 years – and allow Shaker Aamer to come home.

To write to David Miliband requesting the safe return of Shaker Aamer click here.

  1. Magna Carta Libertatum (the Great Charter of Freedoms) is and English legal charter, originally issued in 1215. Among other things it explicitly supported what became the writ of habeus corpus, allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment. []

Sarah Gillespie writes about media reviews and more. Read other articles by Sarah, or visit Sarah's website.

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  1. MichaelKenny said on March 6th, 2010 at 11:23am #

    Ms Gillespie’s point is perfectly valid but there are a few oddities that need to be cleared up. Magna Carta was a document setting out the rights of the nobility, not the people. Treating it as the latter is very … American! And she is! Musician. American father. British mother. Grew up in Norfolk. Where there are two USAF bases. Important links on the route from the US to Israel. Daddy probably was Air Force and she probably went to a military school. Hence the very American view of Magna Carta. Another point: multiculturalism is part of Asian civilisation, not European. Think of all those Chinatowns, where the Chinese keep their communal identity regardless of where they are in the world! In Europe you “are” where you come from and outsiders who refuse to integrate are frowned upon. Indeed, if Europe had been multicultural, neither Zionism nor the State of Israel would ever have come into existence! All the Jews ever wanted was to be allowed to live like Asians, but in Europe. Finally, the Common Law has nothing to do with the Enlightenment! That’s another piece of American mythology. 1688! The Common Law dates from way before that. From around the time of Magna Carta, in fact. As I’ve said before, European history is a lie Americans agree on!

  2. John Andrews said on March 7th, 2010 at 12:39am #

    As usual, Mr Kenny’s remarks are unnecessarily cynical – but, once again as usaul, largely correct.

    Magna Carta is indeed frequently held up as some great touchstone of liberty, but was never intended to protect the rights of ordinary people. It’s clauses refer to ‘freemen’ which a modern reader might reasonably mistake for meaning everyone, but in thirteenth century feudal England it meant a fairly select minority. Also, all but about four of the original 60-odd clauses have been repealed from British statute books.

    The other small point I would challenge is the writer’s phrase, “our transatlantic freefall into ethical bankruptcy”. This assumes that there was some time in the past when we had a high ethical highground from which to freefall. This has never been the case. The only ethical position our rulers have ever maintained is one of achieving maximum personal power and plunder – a position that’s been constantly maintained since the beginning of recorded history – an ethical position from which it’s in fact too low to fall any further.

    The Millibands are of course champions of zionism, so their position supporting the endless genocide in Palestine is completely unsurprising. But look on the bright side… if it wasn’t the Millibands doing it, it would inevitably be someone else – they wouldn’t get those jobs otherwise.