Friday, August 05, 2011

The smoking gun

Over the past decade, there have been serious and credible allegations that the UK intelligence services solicited or condoned torture in order to extract information for the "war on terror". Government Ministers always met these allegations with a stock phrase: "the UK does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture".

Naturally, they were lying. The source of that disclaimer - Tony Blair's "policy on liason with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatement" - was leaked to the Guardian today. As usual, the devil is in the details. Where an overseas agency (Pakistan, say, or the US) is suspected of using torture, the UK intelligence services are supposed to seek assurances that this will not happen. When these are not given, or they are not credible,

the matter should be referred to senior management before proceeding further. Senior management, having taken advice from the LAs [Legal Advisors] as they judge necessary in the particular circumstances, will decide whether to authorise the proposed action. They will balance the risk of mistreatment and the risk that the officer's actions could be judged to be unlawful against the need for the proposed action. All of the relevant circumstances will be taken into account. These will include the operational imperative for the proposed action, such as if the action involves passing or obtaining life-saving intelligence, the level of mistreatment anticipated and how likely those consequences are to happen
(Emphasis added)

Or, as the Guardian puts it, they "instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer". As for the law, well, if a prisoner is tortured, no-one hears the screams, and any mention of it is classified anyway, then the law is irrelevant.

That said, the intelligence agencies were careful to guard themselves against prosecution by making politicians complicit in their crimes:

In particularly difficult cases, senior management may need to refer the matter upwards, and in some cases it may be necessary to consult Ministers. This process is designed to ensure that appropriate visibility and consideration of the risk of unlawful actions takes place.
And to ensure that those Ministers' heads are on also on the block in the event of any inquiry or legal action, thus giving them a strong incentive to ensure that torture is never investigated. Which seems to be working out swimmingly for them; the current government's much hyped inquiry is so obviously a whitewash that human rights groups are refusing to lend it credibility by their participation.

It is clear from this document that the UK intelligence agencies had an unlawful policy to approve torture. They need to be held to account for that. Every agent, every manager, and every Minister involved with this atrocity must be rooted out and prosecuted, sacked and driven from public life. Torture is not acceptable. People who think it is, who create a policy to condone it, who cover it up and lie about its use, have no place in the government or politics of a modern democracy.