Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor / Sunday Herald – 2005-10-18 23:16:38
Britain Sued for ‘Complicity’ in Torture
Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor / Sunday Herald
LONDON (October 16, 2005) — One of the world’s leading human rights lawyers is to sue Britain for its ‘‘complicity’’ in the torture of terror suspects who have never been convicted of a crime.
The news comes as a former leading British diplomat has accused the government of basing its anti-terror policies on information from torture victims that was “bollocks”.
And the former American spy chief who devised a controversial scheme for snatching terror suspects and imprisoning them has criticised its use as a means of delivering them to US-friendly countries for torture.
The developments all focus on “extraordinary rendition flights”, which take terror suspects abducted by the US from all over the world to countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Uzbekistan, where they are tortured.
In one case, Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi – a British resident from Ethiopia – was captured in Pakistan. He claims he was visited in prison by two MI6 officers after he was tortured by Pakistani interrogators, who told him that he was going to be sent to an undisclosed Arab nation for more torture.
Later, Habashi was flown to Morocco on one of the CIA’s fleet of Gulfstream jets used in renditions. There he says he was subjected to appalling abuse, the worst of which involved his interrogators cutting his private parts with a scalpel.
While in Morocco, he claims his torturers made it clear that they were working with British intelligence as part of his interrogation. The British supplied information to the Moroccan interrogators which was used to question Habashi.
Habashi’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, OBE, who is acclaimed in both the USA and UK for his human rights work, is now to sue Britain for breaching the Convention on Torture. Stafford Smith said: “The UK was complicit in this process. What happened to Benyam was morally wrong and stupid. People will say anything when you take a razor blade to their genitals.”
Habashi is now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. During his interrogation he was forced to admit to plotting to “dirty bomb” the USA, and to being al-Qaeda’s “ideas man”. Before his arrest, he was a teenager in London with a drug problem who couldn’t even speak Arabic. Stafford Smith added: “The US government used false information, that stemmed from the point of a razor blade, to scare the whole world.”
Habashi’s sister, Zuhra, who lives in Washington DC said: “I didn’t expect this of the UK government. Britain isn’t a third-world nation. It is shocking. It shows that there is no respect for human rights anywhere in the world. Britain assisted with my brother’s torture. They knew what was happening.”
The UK allows British airports to be used for refuelling by the CIA’s fleet of planes, which ferry captives around the globe. Glasgow and Prestwick airports are the two most favoured CIA stop-overs.
Human rights organisations say extraordinary renditions breach just about every piece of international legislation designed to protect human rights.
Torture Flights: The Inside Story
Neil Mackay / The Sunday Herald
(October 16, 2005) — They could be walking the streets of Sweden, Italy, Albania, Indonesia or Pakistan. They are kidnapped in broad daylight, hooded, drugged, shackled and placed on a jet operated by the CIA. When they wake they find themselves in a country such as Morocco, Egypt or Uzbekistan – where torture is the currency of the interrogation room.
The CIA hand the captive to the local secret police, and the prisoner disappears off the face of the Earth. If they are lucky, they will emerge a few years later in a cage in Guantanamo Bay, broken by beatings, rape and electrocution … if they are unlucky, they are never seen again.
America’s “extraordinary rendition” programme targets suspected Islamic terrorists, captures and delivers them to US-friendly nations which are quite happy to use torture to get the information the US wants for the war on terror.
The programme is reviled by human rights groups around the world, but the UK is a keen supporter. Since 9/11, the CIA’s 33-strong fleet of planes, which is used to fly its human cargo of alleged terrorist captives around the globe, has stopped off for refuelling and other logistical support at UK airports on no less than 210 occasions.
Nearly 20 British airports have been used, with Prestwick and Glasgow the favoured destinations. Prestwick has received 75 CIA rendition flights and Glasgow 74. Other airports used include Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and Belfast.
Other countries aren’t as co-operative. Italy has issued arrest warrants for 19 CIA agents who kidnapped a muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and took him to Egypt, and Sweden is outraged at kidnappings in its jurisdiction.
The UN is investigating how renditions, and other tactics in the war on terror, breach international human rights legislation.
President George Bush says renditions are entirely legal and that rendered suspects are not tortured, despite the fact that his own State Department says Uzbekistan, Egypt and Morocco are among countries that routinely abuse human rights and use torture.
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