Law Review (2): United Nations names Britain as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners. Proud to be British with this….?

Below is a press release from Reprieve. I have extracted it in full.  The report runs to 221+ pages… I have read some of the more UK specific parts and will examine the document in more detail during the course of the day.

Our adherence to the  international rule of law was questioned by government legal advisers yesterday. Today, Lord Goldsmith will speak about his legal advice to the government on the Iraq War.  He may well be persuasive.  I tend to prefer waiting for all parties to speak before forming a final view.

This United Nations report is blunt. Reprieve has extracted the salient points below.  What do you think?  Do you feel that Britain is justified in ‘teaming up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people’ as Clive Stafford-Smith says our government is doing?

Today’s United Nations report names and shames governments who have secretly held ‘ghost prisoners’ beyond the rule of law; the UK is exposed as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners in the so-called war on terror.

The UN has today released a wide-ranging report on secret detention which will prove embarrassing for states like the UK who claim respect for the rule of law.

In this report, UN experts put the US-led “rendition programme” in context as another sad chapter in the history of torture and secret detention, alongside the 1970s campaigns of disappearances in Latin America, and the gulags of the USSR. And in case of any doubt, the UN sets out in unequivocal terms exactly why such practices are illegal.

In an investigation spanning 19 countries across all regions of the world, four independent UN bodies worked together to interview victims of secret detention and canvass governments in order to understand and redress the victims’ plight.

The findings make uncomfortable reading for the UK government who – despite their public condemnation of such practices – are revealed as complicit in war crimes like kidnap, secret detention, and torture.

Revelations include:

  • Confirmation that the UK knew about US renditions practices from 2002, yet continued to hand vulnerable prisoners to US custody with no process until well into 2004;
  • Confirmation that the UK knowingly received information obtained from prisoners being interrogated in US ghost detention;
  • Numerous cases showing that the UK took advantage of illegal secret detention practices over at least three continents by colluding in torture;
  • Unanswered questions in relation to the number of prisoners held by torturous Arab regimes at the request of the UK;
  • Indications that the infamous ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan may have been run by the FBI.

Worryingly, the report indicates that the UK intelligence services lack the oversight that would prevent crimes like complicity in torture from recurring in the future. It recommends that:

“To ensure accountability in intelligence co-operation, truly independent intelligence review and oversight mechanisms should be established… such mechanisms should have access to any information, including sensitive information…”

The report warns of the dangers of intelligence services keeping secrets from the bodies that are charged with policing them; precisely this befell the UK, leading to the ISC’s ‘independent’ report on Rendition containing multiple, serious and embarrassing errors.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Sadly, our government has teamed up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people, using information extracted by violence, keeping secrets and protecting their thugs and cronies. It is shameful that it takes a UN report to reveal these shoddy practices to the British people. The victims are still waiting for an apology. ”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said:

“The British government comes out of this looking like the War on Terror’s spineless ‘middle management’. It’s time to live up to our own – ancient – standards and refuse to work with regimes that torture.”

The full report may be read here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.doc

6 thoughts on “Law Review (2): United Nations names Britain as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners. Proud to be British with this….?

  1. “Spineless middle management”. A metaphor for a deeper, lingering problem perhaps, lodged inside the psyche of our government?

    I very much hope that 2010 sees the revival of some of Britain’s finer qualities (like honour, justice, courage etc).

  2. To be pedantic, there are several degrees of separation between being proud to be British and being proud of the British Govt. So yes, I am proud to be British – but I am appalled that I am represented in the wider world by the current unprincipled, unscrupulous and morally bankrupt British Govt. The sooner that Papa Doc Brown and his cohorts, past and present, are ‘disappeared’, the better for the British – and the rest of the world.

  3. Pam – Yes.. I agree… we are not all tarred by the brush our government wields… but it is a headline to attract attention… so I make no apology for using it :-)

    The difficulty is – our enemies use torture and cruel weapons against us… it is the eternal dilemma – torture a few for the greater good of many? It is an old moral argument which, unfortunately, is still present in the 21st century.

  4. I knew it was an attention grabbing headline – but I got up in a bad mood ;)

    Torture a few for the greater good of the many? But the ‘few’ are chosen almost arbitrarily, without benefit of representation and, obviously, without independent scrutiny. A faceless person/oragnisation decides that someone is guilty and acts accordingly, to extract information; surely that flies in the face of the 2000 yr old development of a civilised society? Imagine someone reading, 200 years hence, the accounts of this torture – we would be viewed as little better than savages, following the laws of the jungle. Equally, a person under the extreme duress of torture is likely to say anything that they perceive will end the torture, whether or not it contains a grain of truth. So the circle is perpetuated…….

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out.

  5. Just one further point. With regard to rendition, the Govt denied, for a long time, that USAF planes used for that purpose were passing through Prestwick airport. Search for ‘Prestwick airport’ on Google maps and zoom in, then count the number of USAF planes, with the markings clearly visible, on the runway……………the images on there are approximately 5 years old; and read this: http://bit.ly/aqjS9c

  6. We have to stand absolutely firm in saying that TORTURE is unlawful and the United Kingdom will fully honour its obligations under the International Torture Convention:

    http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm

    We must honour not only the letter but the spirit of the agreement.

    These reports shame the British government. I agree with Pam Nash on this one.

    The message is coming out that this government has little respect for human rights. There are too many disturbing indications of this – e.g. Binyam Mohamed litigation etc.

    Will look forward to hearing your podcast with Carl Gardiner.

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