What surprised me about this week’s revelations that America tortured prisoners was that anyone was surprised.
The Senate report certainly provided previously unavailable details of exactly what the CIA was prepared to do in order to extract answers from people it held – people often detained illegally – but the fact America was involved in torturing prisoners is not news. Neither, by the way, are subsequent media stories reporting that the UK ‘may’ have been complicit in US actions.
Of course, we are now hearing the defence that, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the US had to take the gloves off to counter an enemy that did not play by the rules. Actually, America and the UK have a long history of ignoring ‘the rules’ when it suits them. It was, of course, the British who first used concentration camps to hold prisoners, while US use of napalm during the Vietnam war resulted in horrific injuries being inflicted on the civilian population. Then there is the illegality of the attack on the sovereign state of Iraq in 2003, a country that had nothing to do with the Twin Towers attack of two years earlier, despite that accusation being the ‘justification’ given for bombing Iraq back to the stone age.
We are also hearing the public relations spin on what is actually the torturing of human bodies and minds: the US Government has acknowledged that the CIA carried out “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The Senate report details some of those enhanced techniques, such as detainees being forced to stand on broken limbs for hours; others kept in complete darkness, deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours. Prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding” and rectal examinations were conducted with “excessive force”.
The report also refers to mock executions, US agents threatening to sexually abuse a detainee’s mother, and to physically hurt prisoners’ children. We’re not talking here of being slapped about a bit.
As for the ‘suspicion’ that the UK may have helped the CIA as it picked-up ‘targets’ on the streets of European cities and transported them to worldwide torture centres, well, evidence to support that claim has also been available for some time.
The US and UK governments say they knew nothing of the CIA’s torture and abuse of people, many who had actually not committed any crime, but they did know. They just thought if they ignored long enough those of us who called for enquiries and legal action, we would get fed up and go away. They were wrong.
Just for the record, this is my contribution to a Scottish Parliament debate held on December 22nd 2005. It was on a Motion proposed by the Scottish Socialist Party and related to ‘rendition flights’, the method used by the CIA to pick up and transport people to be tortured. Remember, the debate took place 9 years ago.
No one in Parliament endorses or supports torture or kidnap. I am sure the people of Scotland expect Parliament to emphasise that we do not support such practices, so I cannot understand the reluctance to carry out at a Scottish level an investigation to determine whether Scottish airspace or airports have been used to facilitate torture and kidnap.
Yesterday, Tony Blair said at his monthly press briefing that he would not initiate an investigation or allow one to be initiated because he had seen no evidence, which takes the man to a whole new level of hypocrisy. He was not too bothered about evidence when he joined his American buddy to rain ‘shock and awe’ on the people of Iraq, and he is not too bothered about the lack of evidence to justify people being disappeared from streets in Europe and taken to third countries, apparently to be tortured, but he wants to see evidence that Scottish or UK airports have been used to facilitate torture flights.
Let’s talk about what we know: there is a Gulfstream V turbojet, registration N379P, and independent witnesses have confirmed that Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed was bundled onto that aircraft and taken to Jordan. He subsequently stated that he was tortured there.
The Swedish parliamentary ombudsman has said that Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari were taken from Sweden to Cairo aboard the same aircraft. They claim they were tortured in Cairo.
That aircraft has been photographed on more than one occasion refuelling at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire, which is a ground for suspicion that a crime might have been committed on Scottish soil. I would like to think that Scotland's police forces might investigate that.
The New York Times stated earlier this year that, as far as it can determine, the CIA owns 26 aircraft, 10 of which have been purchased since 2001. The newspaper has also established that the CIA is behind seven shell corporations - not Shell the oil company, but front-companies for the CIA - one of which is called Devon Holding and Leasing Inc. The New York Times investigated the company and discovered it has no employees and no presence at its registered address, yet it apparently owns aircraft that have refuelled at Scottish airports. Surely that is a ground for suspicion that something a wee bit dodgy is going on? Perhaps Scottish police forces should be investigating why such aircraft are landing at a Scottish airport.
Colin Powell, the former United States Secretary of State, has been quoted saying, “The thing that is called rendition is not something that is new or unknown to my European friends”. By the way, if nothing else comes from this debate, let’s make it clear to Colin Powell that his name is pronounced Coll-in, not Cole-in.
If rendition is not new and it is not unknown, why are we so reluctant to investigate it? Why are we arguing about who should hold the investigation? We have a separate justice system in Scotland, so if crimes are being committed in Scotland, why are we reluctant to investigate them? Why do we not authorise our police to go onboard those aircraft to establish whether crimes are being committed?
Italian judges have issued 22 arrest warrants for people who are suspected of being CIA operatives; Germany has initiated an investigation and the European Commission has initiated an investigation.
If a crime is suspected, surely we should investigate to establish the evidence to prosecute? If there is a suspicion that Scottish airports are being used – and there certainly is – then we should investigate in order to bring to justice, not just those who carry out torture but those who allow it to be carried out.
It is an extremely sad day for Scotland if that suspicion reflects badly on us because we will not allow an investigation.