Posts Tagged ‘Reprieve’

British spy chief weighs into torture row

August 11, 2009
Morning Star Online, Monday 10 August 2009
by Paddy McGuffin
Printable page
There has been "no torture and no complicity in torture" by the MI6, according to its head Sir John Scarlett

There has been “no torture and no complicity in torture” by the MI6, according to its head Sir John Scarlett

The government and MI6 head Sir John Scarlett have been accused of hiding behind ambiguities in their claims that British secret service agents were not complicit in torture.

Senior government figures and the spy chief have attempted to distance themselves from allegations of involvement in the torture of terror suspects in foreign countries.

The government currently faces a number of legal actions from torture victims who maintain that MI5 or MI6 agents were involved in their interrogation.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson wrote in a joint article for a national newspaper that there was no policy “to collude in, solicit or directly participate in abuses of prisoners” or to cover up alleged wrongdoing, although they added that it was not possible to “eradicate all risk.”

And in a highly unusual development, Mr Scarlett, who is usually content to remain in the shadows, emerged today in a bid to deflect criticism from MI6, stating that there was “no torture and no complicity in torture” by the British secret service.

He added that “our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else.”

But responding to the comments, a spokesman for legal action charity Reprieve, which represents a number of torture victims, accused the spy chief and the government of a deliberate cover-up.

He said: “Like our government, the head of MI6 John Scarlett is hiding behind general statements rather than addressing specific allegations. This is simply not good enough.

“Failure to report torture is a serious crime. We would expect any citizen mixed up in such a crime to face the courts and governments should do the same.

“In the High Court case of Binyam Mohamed, the UK government has attempted to evade court scrutiny at every turn and behave increasingly as if they are above the law.”

Scotland Yard is conducting a criminal investigation into claims that MI5 was complicit in the abuse of Mr Mohamed, a British resident who alleges that he was tortured while being held at sites in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan.

“The Foreign Secretary denies covering up evidence of involvement in torture. Why then is he refusing to release a summary, written by High Court judges and stripped of all security-sensitive information, of what happened to Binyam Mohamed?” demanded the spokesman.

Today also saw an influential Westminster committee demand that torture victims be granted the right to sue foreign states through the British legal system.

The joint committee on human rights, chaired by Labour MP Andrew Dismore, called on ministers to lift state immunity, rejecting government claims that the decision would breach international obligations.

The committee concluded: “The practical questions of foreign relations, enforcement and litigation procedure are important, but they are secondary to the issue we are examining, which is, should there be a civil remedy available in the UK to victims of torture at the hands of foreign states?

“We are of the strong opinion that there should.”

The committee has also called for a full public inquiry into the allegations, a demand which has been backed by campaign groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty.

A Number 10 spokesman rejected the demands.

Stop the US torture ship

May 30, 2009
Morning Star Online, Friday 29 May 2009
by Adrian Roberts
The notorious USS Bataan, which has held prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, docking in Mallorca on Thursday morning.

British human rights campaigners Reprieve have urged the Spanish authorities to board and search US torture ship USS Bataan after it moored at the Palma de Mallorca holiday resort.

Reprieve said on Friday that the USS Bataan is one of the US government’s most infamous “floating prisons” and will remain at the island until Saturday.

At least nine prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, who recently died in mysterious circumstances in Libyan custody, are confirmed to have been held aboard the USS Bataan.

Reprieve pointed out that, in January 2002, Mr Al-Libi was flown to the ship, which was then cruising the northern Arabian Sea, before his interrogation began.

From there, he was rendered to Egypt where he was forced under torture to confess that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein were in league on weapons of mass destruction.

Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.

Reprieve investigations also suggest that a further 15 ships have been used to hold prisoners beyond the rule of law since 2001. Prisoners are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations.

A former prisoner told Reprieve: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo was at sea on an American ship before coming to Guantanamo. He was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other prisoners on the ship.

“They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said: “Ships have been used by the US to hold terror suspects illegally since the days of president Clinton, so it would be no surprise if this practice continues under Obama.

“The US and Spanish governments, as well as the EU, must urgently reveal what this ship is doing on European territory.”

Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith added: “The arrival of USS Bataan should ring alarm bells in any law-abiding country. The Spanish authorities are duty-bound to board and search the ship for missing prisoners.”

Mr Stafford Smith has also pointed out that the US chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers.

“By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons and information suggests up to 80,000 have been through the system since 2001,” he said.

“The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are and what has been done to them.”

US ‘held suspects on British territory in 2006’

August 3, 2008

Terrorist suspects were held by the United States on the British territory of Diego Garcia as recently as 2006, according to senior intelligence sources. The claims, which undermine Foreign Office denials that the archipelago in the Indian Ocean has been used as a so-called ‘black site’ to facilitate extraordinary rendition, threaten to cause a diplomatic incident.

The government has repeatedly accepted US assurances that Diego Garcia has not been used to hold high-ranking members of al-Qaeda who have been flown to secret interrogation centres around the world in ‘ghost’ planes hired by the CIA. Interrogation techniques used on suspects are said to include ‘waterboarding’, a simulated drowning that Amnesty International claims is a form of torture. But now the government’s denials over Diego Garcia’s role in extraordinary rendition are crumbling. Senior American intelligence sources have claimed that the US has been holding terrorist suspects on the British territory as recently as two years ago.

The former intelligence officers unofficially told senior Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón that Mustafa Setmarian, a Spanish-based Syrian accused of running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, was taken to Diego Garcia in late 2005 and held there for months. The Spanish are trying to locate and arrest Setmarian for separate terrorist offences.

It is thought that more than 10 high-ranking detainees have been held on Diego Garcia or on a US navy vessel within its harbour since 2002. The suggestion, if true, is acutely embarrassing for the British government which has admitted only that planes carrying al-Qaeda suspects landed on Diego Garcia on two occasions in 2002.

However, a former senior American official familiar with conversations in the White House has also told Time magazine that in the same year Diego Garcia was used to hold and interrogate at least one terrorist suspect.

The Council of Europe has also raised concerns that the UK territory has been used to house detainees. Earlier this year Manfred Novak, the United Nations special investigator on torture, told The Observer he had talked to detainees who had been held on the archipelago in 2002, but declined to name them.

The human rights group Reprieve said it believes most of high-level detainees captured by the US have been rendered through Diego Garcia at one time or another. These include Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi accused of being one of al-Qaeda’s top strategists, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly the mastermind behind 9/11.

‘We are confident high-value prisoners have been held on Diego Garcia for interrogation and possible torture,’ said a Reprieve spokeswoman. ‘We now have sources from the CIA, the UN, the Council of Europe and a Spanish judge who will confirm this.’

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