This week saw the long-awaited publication of the US Senate report on CIA torture methods. Anticipating the worst, US diplomats around the world were advised to remain cautious, as security at US foreign offices was ramped up. However, the report merely confirmed what many of us had already suspected, that the CIA brutally tortured terror suspects.
Responses to the publication of the report have been interesting to observe. There are those who agree that whilst some of these techniques were indeed harsh, they were very much needed to keep America safe. CIA Lawyer John Rizzo admitted to the moral difficulties he personally faced when asked to authorise the methods of interrogation, but felt that he had no other choice and remains unrepentant. Of course, the point that valuable intelligence was gained through these methods that ultimately protected America from potential terror threats is an interesting one. Even if this is true, for every terror threat that was foiled as a result of torture, I do wonder how many new threats have sprouted as a result of the long-standing knowledge on the usage of torture, which was known from the testimony of prisoners years before the publication of this report.
Amidst all the discussion across the pond, here in the UK responses to the report have been rather muted; the discussion wasn’t even mentioned in this weeks episode of ‘Punch and Judy’ (otherwise known as Question Time). What we do know, is that whilst the British Intelligence agencies did make requests for redactions on the basis of protecting national security, the Government didn’t make any requests. Whilst there may be some who will make the accusation that this is a roundabout way for the UK to avoid coming under disrepute for being complicit in torture, the BBCs security correspondant, Frank Gardner makes a valid point when he suggests that it would be nonsensical for the CIA to redact allegations of UK abuse whilst the US is ‘dragged through the mud’.
However given the extremely close relationship between the UK and US, and the fact that our government stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US in its war on terror, the question on complicity of our government and security services in the torturing of terror suspects must be asked, and whilst Gardner’s point is of course true in the context of this particular report, that point alone does not automatically absolve our security services of being complicit in torture. Interestingly the Gibson report, which was set-up by the current coalition government, mentions that MI5 and MI6 turned a ‘blind-eye’ to the torture of terror suspects in foreign jails, and even when some agents held concerns regarding the methods used, they didn’t express them out of ‘fear of damaging the special liaison relationship’ with the CIA. Unfortunately, the inquiry was abruptly cut short following first hand evidence of MI6 involvement in the rendition of two prominent Libyan individuals which became the subject of a police inquiry.
Naturally this leaves us with a number of unanswered questions, in particular whether our security services ‘benefitted’ from a compliant detainee following a session of torture, and whether they ever raised their concerns to ministers, and if so, what action the ministers took. We must investigate the exact role of the security services and Government in terror renditions, and more importantly, those who were complicit must be held accountable.
Another interesting point of reflection is the silence of Tony Blair. Of late, Mr Blair has felt the need to chime in with his despotic views on a range of issues, despite the fact that nobody asks him for them; even Boris Johnson recently felt that Tony Blair had ‘finally gone mad’ following his ‘unhinged’ comments on the current Iraq crisis. However, Tony’s Blair’s silence following the publication of the current senate report is of course remarkable. On this one Mr Blair, the Britsh public is interested in what you have to say.
Responses from the Muslim community have also been interesting to observe. Whilst some have been quick to shout out ‘we told you so’, the point that a Government published a report against itself in the name of accountability should not go unnoticed. Even in the UK we had a Gibson ‘semi-report’. Would Nations such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Countries, Egypt and Libya ever hold similar, transparent enquiries which most certainly would defame them? For all the talk we hear of ‘Muslim countries’, their lack of the basic Islamic principles of accountability and self-regulation make these countries a slur upon the name of this great Abrahamic religion.
Of course, it is anticipated that the publication of this report is merely the start of a process, which eventually will hold those who sanctioned these abhorrent methods of torture to account. On this point I agree with Moazzam Begg, that merely publishing such a report without accountability becomes a futile confession exercise, and will send the message to the international community that powerful leaders are immune from being held accountable and being prosecuted for acts of criminality. If we can make examples out of MPs like Chris Huhne for dodging speeding tickets, then we must do the same for those who may have committed far graver crimes.