In recent years, the British state has taken to presenting itself as the ‘friendly’ face of imperialism. Yes, it admits, we wage wars and occupy countries, but we do so with a certain level of humanity that our friends across the ocean don’t seem to be capable of. We wouldn’t, for example, be involved in an atrocity like the Guantanamo prison camp, where hundreds of people have been detained illegally and tortured. Our firm but fair role in Basra apparently ensured that the south of Iraq was a haven of tranquillity, certainly in comparison with US-run Baghdad.
This picture is misleading. For one thing, British security services were clearly complicit in the wrongful imprisonment of British citizens at Guantanamo and in the torture of British prisoners elsewhere in the world. A number of former detainees are now suing the British state for damages on the basis of its complicity with their illegal imprisonment and torture.
“Among those suing for damages are Salahuddin Amin, a convicted terrorist from Luton, who was repeatedly questioned by MI5 officers during the 10 months that he was held unlawfully by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known to routinely torture detainees; Rangzieb Ahmed, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, who had fingernails ripped out by ISI officers after MI6 suggested he be detained, and after MI5 and Greater Manchester police drew up a list of questions to be put to him; and Jamil Rahman, a former civil servant from south Wales, who says he was repeatedly questioned by British intelligence officers after being tortured by Bangladeshi officials, and was eventually released without charge.” (‘Former Guantanamo detainees set for payouts after wining secrecy appeal’, The Guardian, 4 May 2010)
MI5 and MI6 have for years been attempting to suppress the evidence relating to British complicity in such acts, but they suffered a major blow in early May, when judges ruled that any attempt to “suppress evidence in a civil trial undermined the principles of common law and open justice”, one of which is that “trials should be conducted in public, and the judgements should be given in public”. (Ibid)
The security agencies had proposed that all evidence in such cases be kept secret from everyone except judges and certain vetted barristers. This legal move was so unprecedented, and runs so far counter to the spirit of the legal system in general, that the Guardian, the Times, the BBC, Justice, and Liberty all intervened, “arguing that at stake was the right to a fair and open trial, the right to freedom of expression and the public’s right to know what agents of the state are or have been doing on its behalf”. (Ibid)
It is likely that former detainees will be offered massive out-of-court settlements, “as that would be preferable to having embarrassing evidence of the security and intelligence agencies’ complicity in abuse being exposed”. (Ibid)
We can only hope that some of the claimants pursue the case to their end rather than accepting an out-of-court settlement, as it is crucial to developing the consciousness of British workers that the state’s complicity in these crimes is exposed.
Judicial review to investigate Afghanistan torture claims
Prominent anti-war campaigner Maya Evans (perhaps best known for being arrested opposite the Cenotaph war memorial in London in 2005, when she refused to obey police instructions to stop reading out loud the names of British soldiers killed in the Iraq war) was in the High Court in late April, seeking a judicial review of the government’s detainee transfer policy in Afghanistan.
Evans has gathered significant evidence demonstrating the complicity of the British state in the torture of Taliban suspects handed over by Britain to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). (See ‘Britain goes on trial over torture of suspects in Afghanistan’, The Independent, 20 April 2010)
“The court heard how six Afghan detainees – Taliban suspects – handed over by British troops to NDS prisons were allegedly deprived of sleep, whipped with rubber cables and subjected to electric shocks. Backed by law firm Public Interest Lawyers, Evans argues Britain has breached the Human Rights Act by handing over prisoners to a country known to participate in torture. The lawyers claim the NDS had a notorious reputation for mistreating prisoners and British officers should have known of the risks.” (‘Afghan spy chief: “I told MI5 that prisoners were being tortured”’, The Guardian, 25 April 2010)
The MoD has been forced to agree to a judicial review, but unfortunately it has succeeded in getting much of the evidence suppressed, and the review will be held in secret.
British-run prisons in Iraq
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence is likely to face hundreds of compensation claims from Iraqis held in British-run prisons in Iraq. A case precedent was set in 2008, when the MoD admitted that Iraqis had been unlawfully assaulted at a base known as Camp Breadbasket in Basra.
An enquiry into the death of Baha Musa, who died in British custody in 2003, saw evidence “suggesting that the illegal treatment of prisoners, such as hooding and sleep deprivation, was widespread”.
“In Basra, Iraqis who had been detained at Camp Breadbasket said that the abuses become so notorious that former detainees were assumed to have been sexually abused by men [British soldiers] and were ostracised after their release.
“A 35-year-old Iraqi man, who received a financial settlement from the MoD after being held at Camp Breadbasket for one day in 2003, told The Times that he was stripped to his underwear, beaten and forced to sit outside with his back against a wall in intense heat for five hours without water.
“He said: ‘The main problem is that my reputation is ruined. The people in our area, when they hear I have been arrested by the British Army, assumed I had been abused by British soldiers. People associate the British Army with sexual abuse.
“He said that when he reported his experience to the British authorities he was asked to look at an album of photographs of other detainees. ‘I was astonished,’ he said. ‘I saw photographs of my friends being abused by the forces, totally naked, hanging upside down, being sexually abused.’” (‘Britain faces payout shame as hundreds of detainees claim soldiers abused them’, The Times, 3 May 2010)
So much for the civilised British form of occupation.
British law firms Leigh Day and Public Interest Lawyers between them represent nearly 200 Iraqi clients with claims against the MoD on account of unlawful arrest and treatment.
Joe Glenton loses appeal
We strongly urge readers to do what they can to support Joe Glenton, the soldier who heroically refused to return to Afghanistan and defied the authorities by speaking at an anti-war demonstration.
On 21 April, judges at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that “Joe’s diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder was not serious enough to justify his refusal to return to Afghanistan”. (‘Soldier who said no to war in Afghanistan loses appeal’ by Chris Nineham, stopwar.org.uk)
What is happening to Joe Glenton is a travesty, and it is a very poor reflection on the state of the British anti-imperialist movement that the state can get away with this type of persecution with very little resistance. Many of us learned the famous statement of Martin Niemöller at school (“First they came for the Jews …”), but without a decent leadership to inspire them, few people feel confident to act in the spirit of it.
We offer our full support to Joe Glenton and his family. We ask our readers to send messages of support by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we recommend to the Stop the War Coalition that they organise a large rally in Joe’s defence. We stand ready to do everything we can to assist.