Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Moving Finger Writes...

Today's Times print edition details an accusation against former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and others which we featured earlier under the title Vincent Cannistraro, Jack Straw and a New Car.

This matter has now moved onward, and according to The Times Jack Straw and Mark Allen (in 2004 head of counter-terrorism at MI6) face action in a British court for authorising and assisting the rendition and imprisonment of Sami al-Saadi with his wife and four children, and Abdel Hakim Belhadj and his wife at that time four months pregnant.

In 2004 Al-Saadi, his wife and children aged 12, 10, 9 and 6 were detained in Hong Kong while travelling to the British embassy. It is alleged that the terrified wife and children were forced to undergo a long flight to Libya with no explanation as to what was happening to them. After being flown to Libya, al-Saadi spent the next six years in jail. He claims that while in prison, two British officials questioned him, and that he was repeatedly tortured.

Abdel Belhadj and his wife were captured in Kuala Lumpur and transported by plane via the island of Diego Garcia to Libya. Belhadj spent seven years in jail, where he claims he was repeatedly tortured.

The allegations include that not only were the fathers of the families "viciously tortured", but family members themselves were subjected to severe ill-treatment. Belhadj's wife, at that time four months pregnant, was said to have been chained to a cell wall by her wrist and opposite ankle. She was allowed no food, only water.

If the court action is successful, the rendition and forced return to Gaddafi's Libya of the two who were actively opposing the Gaddafi regime - at that time a "friend" of Britain - also raises the prospect that William Hague, other ministers and members of the security services could face similar legal action if they are found to have authorised operations that later could be deemed unlawful.

A time-line analysis shows that between 2004 and 2009 ministers repeatedly assured the nation that no such renditions or cooperation with American renditions were taking place.

One year after the 2004 renditions Jack Straw told Parliament that "careful research has revealed no occasion when British airspace or territories were used for rendition flights." 

In March 2007 Tony Blair assured the Intelligence and Security Committee he was satisfied that the US "at no time since 9/11" rendered an individual through the UK or Overseas Territories.

In September 2011, following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, investigators for Human Rights Watch searched the offices of Libya's Foreign Ministry. They discovered a letter suggesting that MI6 was complicit with the system of rendition, and had provided to the US the intelligence that led to the capture of Belhadj.

Immediately Jack Straw told BBC Radio Four "We were opposed to unlawful rendition. We were opposed to any use of torture or similar methods... We were not complicit in it and we did not turn a blind eye to it."  He then added what might be interpreted as a catch-all excuse for illegality by MI6 and other agencies: "Foreign Secretaries cannot know all the details of what intelligence agencies are doing at any one time." 

If Mr al-Saadi and Mr Belhadj prove successful in their court actions, the result would indicate that Straw, Milliband, MI6 and MI5 have cooperated with a system of illegal rendition which goes back decades, including the 1980's. 

It was in that decade that the CIA's Vincent Cannistraro was part of a White House team designing and implementing a world-wide system of rendition for imprisonment, enhanced interrogation and torture in prisons run by carefully chosen nations friendly to America. Indeed, Cannistraro not only minuted the secret discussions, he suggested ways that the CIA could overcome resistance by certain White House officials.

Cannistraro progressed within the CIA, took charge of the CIA team investigating the Lockerbie bombing, and in 1990, on retirement, was awarded medals for his contribution to US interests.


As a corollary, in the same edition of The Times, an editorial entitled Rendering Truth offers excuse and encouragement for such illegal actions. "It must remain possible for British ministers to take difficult decisions in the interests of national security and to work with their allies, in particular with their American counterparts, to protect citizens. They must be able to do so without the threat of retrospective legal action, aided by hindsight, in what in both of these cases is a changed set of international circumstances."

This paragraph deserves comment:-

Firstly, the two families were detained and tortured not because they were a threat to citizens of the United Kingdom, but because they opposed a brutal dictator who was - like many others throughout the twentieth century - a temporary, throw-away "Friend of Britain and America". 

Second, the exposure of the detentions was not aided by hindsight, it occurred solely through the actions of Human Rights Watch, a world-wide organisation that seeks to protect citizens against abuses by the state. If HRW had not in September 2011 discovered the letter revealing British and American actions, the matter would have remained hidden.

Third,  and most sickening, is the conclusion that illegal and cruel actions can be viewed as such only if "international circumstances" change.  In other words, if Gaddafi had remained a friend of the West, these things would have secretly continued as acceptable activities by British foreign secretaries and their MI6 and MI5 cohorts. 

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, 1859.

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