The European Court of Human Rights condemned the so-called “five techniques” used by UK military and security forces during that period. It ruled that the techniques – hooding, wall-standing, noise, deprivation of food and drink, and sleep deprivation – were cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, banned under the European Convention on Human Rights. The British government gave “a solemn undertaking” to the court that the techniques would never again be used on British soil."Human Rights Watch – Dangerous Ambivalence: UK Policy on Torture since 9/11
Never again on British soil, but we can solemnly undertake that you can ship it overseas and we shall turn a blind eye – especially if there are others who will do the actual dirty business. We shall not engage in torture (and if by chance you find a case or two, be sure that these are only rotten apples).
This is the British way. Our public face is principled, well-spoken and well-educated. We play fair, and you can trust our simple swords of truth and trusty shields. In fact, if those dirty Americans (our special friends) should ever happen – perchance – to fly an aeroplane through our airspace, carting their prisoners of war off to secret detention camps to be tortured, you can be quite sure that we knew nothing about it, that it didn’t happen anyway, and if someone finds out that it did, we shall apologise for having told you otherwise.
And so we did, or rather so our well-spoken, principled, well-educated Foreign Secretary did. The very same Foreign Secretary, incidentally, who features on the front page1 of Amnesty’s UK Section website with the Director of Amnesty UK (Kate Allen) and a candle in the background.
You see: he believes in human rights, and our human rights organisations believe in him.
But just for the record:
- Miliband was Head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit in Downing Street from 1997 to 2001. The Policy Unit ‘provides expert advice to the Prime Minister’ – and presumably did so in those crucial years when the Prime Minister was a) bombing Iraq illegally, b) ensuring the continuation of a ‘genocidal’ (in the words of Denis Halliday) sanctions policy in Iraq, c) bombing Serbia illegally.
- In May 2001, Miliband entered Parliament as a Labour MP, from which time he has voted loyally with the Government on all major issues – including supporting the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, draconian anti-terrorism bills, pre-charge detention up to a maximum of 28 days, restrictions on free speech and the right to protest, and the imposition of control orders. No name but a few.
- From May 2005, Miliband has been a member of the Cabinet and from July 2007, Foreign Secretary. Since then, and despite much muttering that things would change, nothing has. He still says of the Iraq invasion ‘I believe this was done for the right reasons.’
He must be the only person left in the UK who does. It also makes it rather strange that he should have tried so hard to prevent the first draft of the dodgy dossier from being released under a FOI request, as he did. I wonder what he was afraid that we might see.
And now there is this latest episode: Ben Griffin is a former SAS soldier who served in the US/UK Task Force in Afghanistan, and who has decided to go public on British complicity with torture. Last Monday, he made a statement to the press – his last, before the Government put a gagging order on him – in which he said:
Throughout my time in Iraq I was in no doubt that individuals detained by UKSF and handed over to our American colleagues would be tortured. During my time as member of the US/UK Task Force, three soldiers recounted to me an incident in which they had witnessed the brutal interrogation of two detainees. Partial drowning and an electric cattle prod were used during this interrogation and this amounted to torture. It was the widely held assumption that this would be the fate of any individuals handed over to our America colleagues.
Griffin says he has been told by his legal team that whenever British soldiers hand over detainees to the Americans (or the Afghan or Iraqi powers) – this is rendition2 It is rendition, and it is illegal, both because it is done secretly, or at least without formal procedures; but also because by now there is enough evidence to know that the recipient parties all engage in torture on a systematic basis.
So quite apart from whether we, the British, torture with our own clean hands – and we do3 – we are still contravening human rights law, regularly, by handing those we detain over to hands that we know are dirty4.
…it is the essential responsibility of States to prevent acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment being committed, not only against persons within any territory under their own jurisdiction… but also to prevent such acts by not bringing persons under the control of other States if there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment
Can we then expect an apology from our Foreign Secretary, for our engaging in rendition, systematically, and deliberately? It might mean just a little more than an apology for his predecessor having misled the House 5 years ago about 2 aeroplanes touching down on British territory.