Despite repeated denials from top government officials dating back to 2005, when reports began to emerge of secret CIA flights of suspected terrorists to torture camps across the globe, it is now admitted that Britain has been involved in the illegal, barbaric and shameful practice of rendition.
According to Professor Phillippe Sands QC, rendition is “the practice of forcibly transporting a person – usually alleged to be involved in terrorist activity – from one country to another country without relying on the normal legal processes (extradition, deportation etc) and for the purpose of subjecting them to interrogation and other forms of treatment that include torture or cruel and degrading treatment”. (JUSTICE International Rule of Law Lecture, 2006)
Needless to say, the practice violates fundamental rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Prohibition on Torture, and therefore constitutes a crime under international law.
On 26 February 2009, defence secretary John Hutton confirmed that two Pakistani men, captured and detained by British armed forces outside Baghdad in 2004, had been handed to US forces and subsequently removed by the US to Afghanistan, where they remain in US detention. (‘Britain admits rendition of terror suspects’, The Times , 27 February 2009)
Also in February, Human Rights Watch reported that it has compelling evidence collated from Pakistani intelligence operatives, which demonstrates that British intelligence officials have been complicit in the torture of individuals, including 10 Britons detained in Pakistan. The report stated that the evidence “indicated a ‘systematic’ operation among British security forces, involving a significant number of agents” . (‘British Guantanamo detainee, and former British resident, is due to be released on Monday’, The Daily Telegraph , 23 February 2009)
Then there is the case of Binyan Mohamed – an Ethiopian formerly resident in the UK who was released in February following seven years’ detention at Guantánamo Bay. In the custody of the United States following his arrest in Pakistan, he was flown to the US detention facility at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, and was subsequently held for a period in Moroccan prisons.
Mr Binyam suffered torture at the hands of both the Pakistani and Moroccan authorities, and was held incommunicado for two years before his arrival at Guantánamo Bay. He claims that his torturers were receiving questions and material from British intelligence agents.
The High Court ruled that the role of the Security Service in Mr Binyam’s case “went far beyond that of a by-stander” . The allegations are currently being investigated by the Attorney General. (Sources: ‘MI5 colluded in torture of British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, says High Court’, The Daily Telegraph , 3 September 2008; ‘Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyan Mohamed claims “torturers” linked to British agents’, The Daily Telegraph , 23 February 2009; ‘Britain admits rendition of terror suspects’ op cit)
In the light of the Binyan Mohamed story, a further victim of torture abroad with British security service complicity has come forward. Azhar Khan, arrested in connection with the alleged ‘fertiliser bomb’ attacks on Bluewater shopping centre and Ministry of Sound nightclub and subsequently released without charge, was arrested and tortured by Egyptian authorities after flying to Cairo for a holiday in July 2008.
Mr Khan’s interrogation focussed on the criminal investigation against him in Britain, and questions were clearly fed from British authorities. (‘Former British terrorism suspect claims he was tortured on behalf of MI5’, The Daily Telegraph , 16 March 2009)
Tip of the iceberg
Given the picture that is emerging of the practice of British security services in connection with the war on terror, it is likely that such stories are merely the tip of the iceberg.
The news is the latest in a stream of revelations over the past year which have totally scuppered the attempts by representatives of British imperialism to take the moral high ground in presenting their conduct of Britain’s current wars abroad. On the contrary, it is now clearer than ever that, in the prosecution of its wars, there are no taboos for British imperialism; no lines that will not be crossed, and no respect for fundamental human rights or international covenants.
The EU inquiry into rendition led by Baroness Ludford reported in 2007 that “the UK was heavily implicated in complicity with torture flights. It expressed serious concern about 170 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports, and pointed to apparent MI5 complicity in the extraordinary rendition of British residents and citizens Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna, Binyam Mohammed and Martin Mubanga.” (‘Rendition and torture denials coming unstuck’, sarahludfordmep.org.uk , 27 February 2009)
The government has already been forced to retract a denial that Britain had facilitated US rendition flights, following the revelation in February 2008 that such flights had landed twice for refuelling on the British colony of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The suspects on board were bound for Guantánamo and Morocco, respectively. (‘Miliband admits US rendition flights stopped on UK soil’, The Guardian , 21 February 2008)
Subsequently, a former SAS officer who served in Iraq, Mr Ben Griffin, was served with a High Court order gagging him from making any further statements to the press after he “told a press conference hosted by the Stop the War Coalition … that individuals detained by SAS troops in a joint UK-US special forces taskforce had ended up in interrogation centres in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Guantánamo Bay. He had not witnessed torture himself but added: ‘I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.’” (‘Court gags ex-SAS man who made torture claims’, The Guardian , 29 February 2008)
Imperialist brutality exposed
The ‘war on terror’ (read: war for imperialist domination) has, from the outset, been described by the warmongers as a fight of ‘good against evil’, a struggle for ‘western [imperialist/capitalist] ideals’ against a threat to the ‘very fabric of our society’, ‘our values’ and ‘our way of life’. As the Anglo-American imperialist war machine lies weakened and on the road to defeat, hounded out of Iraq and hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan, so, too, the lies and fraudulent claims through which the imperialist leaders have sought to dupe the public into supporting their wars are exposed for all who wish to see.
As Professor Sands has pointed out, “our ‘way of life’, includes our system of values and our system of values includes a commitment to the rule of law. Returning foreigners to near-certain torture is not consistent with our ‘way of life’ or our values. Aiding and abetting the transfer of foreign nationals and residents to Guantanamo … would not be consistent with our ‘way of life’ or our ‘values’. Turning a blind eye to extraordinary rendition … falls within the same category.” (JUSTICE lecture, op cit )
Of course, what is meant by ‘our way of life’ and ‘our values’ is only bourgeois democracy. Its often trumpeted freedoms – freedom of speech and the press, freedom to form trade unions and political parties, freedom of thought and religion, etc – are in practice meaningless and hollow for the working-class, for what is freedom of speech without access to the mainstream media? And what is the value of trade unions so thoroughly tied to social democracy that they are unwilling to fight for workers rights? Etc.
These bourgeois freedoms, illusory and temporary at best, are now being rapidly recalled and replaced by dictatorial and repressive measures, as the relative peace and prosperity which imperialism has enjoyed since World War II gives way under its deepening crisis. As the revelations about Britain’s role in rendition make clear, bourgeois democracy is under threat, but it is under threat from the bourgeois state itself. (See ‘Bourgeois democracy and fascism’, by Harpal Brar, May 2000, Imperialism: the Eve of the Social Revolution of the Proletariat , 2007, p225)
Evidence of British abuses and flagrant violations of human rights and international conventions abroad is not new, and neither is it an aberration. The British imperialist empire was built on the basis of the most brutal repression of the colonial populations and Britain has continued to exercise control of markets and resources abroad by violent and repressive means.
This is merely an expression of the essential heart and reality of imperialist rule “which, without the slightest scruple and qualms of conscience, would drown millions of people in blood in order artificially to retard the approaching demise of this filthy system, which has for so long tormented humanity and dragged it through filth and blood, and which, during the century just closing, has claimed the lives of 100 million human beings through the slaughterhouse of imperialist wars, let alone the 20 million that it indirectly kills every year through malnutrition, disease and hunger. Besides, one only has to know the history of Britain for the past three centuries, of France and the US for the past two centuries, to realise that in the art of the use of bloody violence, at home and abroad, the ruling classes of these countries have nothing to learn from the ruling class of any other country, fascist Germany included. The mass slaughter of the Vietnamese and Korean people by the imperialist powers, especially the US, the bombing by them last year  of the tiny Yugoslav Republic, and the continued bombing of Iraq 10 years after the end of the Gulf War – to confine ourselves to just three examples – make the Nazi crimes, outrageous and horrific though they were, small in comparison.” (Harpal Brar, ibid )
These are the actions of an outmoded and dying system. Join forces with those working to hasten its final demise.