Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Outsourcing torture

One of the early horrors to emerge in the "war on terror" was that the Americans have a policy of outsourcing torture, of colluding with intelligence agencies in despotic regimes to do their dirty work for them. Now it seems that the British have been following in their footsteps, outsourcing the torture of terrorism suspects to Pakistan. Here's one example:

The man, a medical student, said he was abducted at gunpoint in August 2005 and held for two months at the offices of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau opposite the British Deputy High Commission in Karachi. The student, who has not spoken out before, has described how he was whipped, beaten, deprived of sleep, threatened with execution and witnessed other inmates being tortured.

He was questioned about the suicide attacks on London's transport network in July of that year, and says that after being tortured by Pakistani agents he was questioned by British intelligence officers. He was released to his father, who says he received a personal apology from the director of the Intelligence Bureau.

This isn't an isolated case; the Guardian article cites at least six other examples where UK residents were detained and tortured in Pakistan, then once broken, questioned by British intelligence agents. MI5 is of course issuing the usual denials, but at the minimum there seems to have been collusion and a tacit agreement to turn a blind eye in order to benefit from mistreatment. And that's not just wrong - it's also illegal under UK law:
Under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 it is an offence for British officials to instigate or consent to the inflicting of "severe pain or suffering" on any person, anywhere in the world, or even to acquiesce in such treatment. Any such offence could be punished by life imprisonment.
There are now calls for a full inquiry by the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal, and while I hope that this will lead to a full accounting for the crimes of British intelligence services in the war on terror, my inner cynic says it will simply lead to another secretive, tawdry whitewash. In the end the British establishment will protect its own, while no-one will want to confront the real problem: that there are spies (with their secretive, anti-democratic, unaccountable attitudes which naturally lead to escalating abuses) in the first place.