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Wednesday, February 04, 2009 

New Labour's moral cowardice and collusion with torture.

With the demise of the Bush administration, some of us were dearly hoping that not just would there be distinct policy changes, but that those who know where the bodies are buried would be quickly into the offices of investigative hacks across the world to lay bear just how deeply involved at the highest levels the Americans were with their client torture regimes. It could yet be the case that instead of going to the likes of Seymour Hersh, they've decided to write books, or that the exposes could be yet to come, but for now it looks as if loyalty is still winning out.

Such loyalty also still seems to be in evidence in our own dead men walking. Yesterday's nauseating press conference between David Miliband and Hillary Clinton, full of deeply unconvincing talk of just how special the special relationship is, if indeed you can consider abusive relationships where one partner is completely domineering over the other to be in any way special, was instructive of just how little the substance has changed. Yes, Obama's signed the papers to close Guantanamo within a year, and the CIA's system of black sites used to additionally hold "terrorist suspects" has gone the same way, but the last thing the administration is interested in doing is actually opening up the books and coming completely clean about how the Bush administration operated and how quickly the Americans went from decrying torture to actively practicing it and colluding even more directly with allies that do the same.

It is however difficult to know for certain whether David Miliband is telling the truth when he claimed to Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones that if he released documents detailing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident detained at Guantanamo, that the US would in response be forced to withhold intelligence from our own security services. The BBC is reporting that Miliband is claiming there were no threats - just that the confidentiality of the documents meant they could not be released. While doubtless the US would be extremely peeved to say the least about information being released that would confirm they colluded in the torture of Mohamed while he was in Morocco, this still seems unlikely to genuinely stop intelligence sharing: it is after all a two-way street, and besides, such intelligence is pooled between all the major security agencies. Information would continue to go to the French and Germans for instance, who could then still pass it on to us if they were so inclined. This was why the Saudi threat over the BAE corruption inquiry was so unconvincing: even if they stopped sharing intelligence data with us, the Americans would have passed it on.

The comparison with the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Saudi-BAE slush fund is apposite because of what it tells us about the completely craven nature of our government while at the same time being wholly convenient because it means they can do what they also wanted to do regardless. In both cases, we were and are effectively being blackmailed; Prince Bandar even seemed to be directly threatening us with a terrorist attack if the inquiry into his alleged corrupt behaviour was not stopped. Likewise, the supposed American threat to stop intelligence cooperation means that we don't have to expose our own security services, who have long hilariously claimed to be whiter than white, as the true charlatans and collaborators in torture that they are. It's not even as if we don't already know that we rely on intelligence from foreign countries where torture and worse is routinely used: Craig Murray after all was forced out as ambassador to Uzbekistan after he demanded that MI6 stop using "intelligence" which was the fruit of torture of regime opponents.

Furthermore, the Intelligence and Security Committee has already noted that information which MI6 supplied to the Americans on Binyam Mohamed was almost certainly used in his torture in Morocco. In the usual understated, insulting style with which the ISC deals with such outrages, this was "with hindsight, ... regrettable". The ISC has always been utterly useless, far too weak to even begin to hold the security services to account, but their complete wide-eyed believing that MI5 and MI6 themselves didn't know that the US had been mistreating prisoners until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke was beyond a joke. That the government is suggesting that they should investigate again is the biggest cop-out imaginable, and needs to be vigorously resisted.

For while ostensibly today's ruling was about the United States' involvement in rendition and abuse of prisoners, it was also about our own unhappy role in it. We know full well that other former prisoners at Guantanamo ended up there because of how our own security services acted, just as we know that MI5 and 6 were involved with Binyam Mohamed during his detention in Pakistan, and as is alleged, with others detained in Pakistan who were tortured by the ISI. We're meant to believe that such meetings were social visits, where agents of our security assets were only concerned with how they were being treated, not with further interrogation or to see whether they had been broken by their jailers. While America undoubtedly has the most questions to answer about its tactics in the war on terror, we too have been complicit in the abuses and still refuse to even countenace the release of the slightest insight into just how deep the collusion went, even when a man's future might well be at stake. We might yet have to wait for the fall of New Labour before the Obama adminstration becomes confident enough to air the previous incumbent's dirty linen in public.

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"the last thing the administration is interested in doing is actually opening up the books and coming completely clean about how the Bush administration operated and how quickly the Americans went from decrying torture to actively practicing it and colluding even more directly with allies that do the same."

That depends, doesn't it? Given the strong words Obama used about torture in his inaugural and elsewhere, I'd say - unless he's just a cynical liar - he and others in his administration are actually pretty angry about the way Bush and Co behaved, and recognise the shame it brought on America. Obviously there's a distinction between the permanent military-security complex and the new politicians, but from a purely political point of view (even leaving aside the morality) there's good reason for Obama's guys to expose the use of torture etc under Bush. Most Americans are pretty decent folk - my suspicion is that once this stuff gets out the Republicans are going to be seriously damaged by it. I say give them a chance.

I'm just scared that the "fall of New Labour" will bring about a Tory government who'll be every bit as bad for us domestically as the Bush Administration was for the US.

Can we look at this in a few different ways.

Documents relating to the interrogation of a UK resident (who is requesting UK protection) *have* been handed to UK judges via UK security services. Under what limitation/expectation was that information given by the US security services to their UK equivalents? There had to be an understanding that the information (or the circumstances surrounding it) might be raised in a UK court.

It is possible that the US security services said, here is a load of guff but don't try to use it in court because we will deny everything. It is equally plausible that UK judges may have jumped the gun a bit; the US will eventually admit "interrogation failures" but not this month or next.

The problem that we have is that a government minister, David Miliband, protests that the evidence cannot be used in court, because it may upset somebody. In between the exposure of the information to UK judges, the US has a new president and a new executive. If the information relating to Binyam Mohamed cannot be used in court, surely we should infer that all Bush/Blair security considerations apply to Obama/Brown, and that only words have changed?

Where did we get this idea that the bad behaviour of the US government started under Bush? Extraordinary rendition was alive and well under Clinton, and before that was the lamentable rule of Kissinger. Bush was at best the apotheosis of a trend rather than an exception to a rule, and at worst simply the first president to truly realise just how easy to manipulate the American electorate is.

Obama may well be marginally on the left on some social and economic issues (although people would do well to observe that what counts as "on the left" in US terms is somewhat to the right of Cameron's Tory Party), but he's a NeoLib centrist on the international stage, being deeply committed to the idea of America as an active reforming force in the world and not so much to the idea that American force needs to be reformed, hopefully back to behind its own borders. While it may be nice to have a glimmer of hope that Obama's just waiting for Brown to kick it before he starts to open up the books and let sunlight in, it hardly seems likely that he'd want to undermine the imperial court in its totality. GTMO is a liability because people know about it. There's plenty of wiggle room between being the kind of liberal, humanitarian president we want and George W Bush.

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