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Cameron Warns Terrorism Cannot Be Defeated If We Lose Our Moral Authority

British PM David Cameron


Greg Daly - published on 12/13/14

Former PM Blair's knowledge of British complicity in torture is to escape investigation.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is to escape investigation into claims that he was fully informed “every step of the way” on the CIA’s secret rendition and interrogation program after the September 11 attacks. Instead, according to a source quoted by The Telegraph, the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee will “hold the intelligence services to account, not politicians,” focusing on what MI5, MI6, and GCHQ did or did not know, and whether the UK knowingly received information it believed had been acquired through torture.

The United Kingdom is one of 54 countries identified by the Open Society Foundation as having been complicit in the practice known as "extraordinary rendition," whereby people suspected of terrorist activity were detained and transported without legal process and in many cases subjected to "enhanced interrogation." In April a security source informed The Telegraph that Blair and the then foreign secretary Jack Straw were thoroughly briefed by MI6 on CIA activities and were shown American legal opinions that decreed “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding and stress positions to be legal.

Some of these activities, known as the “Five Techniques,” had been used by British forces in Northern Ireland in 1971 and taught to representatives of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the early 1970s. Although the UK government banned the “Five Techniques” in 1972, it nonetheless defended them when Ireland challenged Britain’s conduct in the European Court of Human Rights. In 1976 the Court found Britain guilty of torture, but on appeal the Court in 1978 described the British activities as “inhuman and degrading,” but not actually torture. Earlier this month the Irish government announced it would be appealing against the 1978 decision on the basis of recently discovered documents suggesting that Britain had misled the Court, withholding important evidence that the “Five Techniques” had been authorized at UK Cabinet level and that the long-term health impacts of the techniques on victims was known at the time.

The 1978 European decision was cited by the US Attorney General’s office in 2002 when justifying what actions could be taken when interrogating prisoners. The Telegraph’s security source, which it describes as having “direct and detailed knowledge of the transatlantic relations” in the period after the September 2001 attacks, says that Blair and Straw “wanted to know everything” and received American legal opinions on the legitimacy of “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

“The politicians knew in detail about everything — the torture and the rendition,” said the source, “They could have said ‘stop it, do not get involved,’ but at no time did they.”

The Committee’s decision comes just days after the publication of a 528-page executive summary by the United States Senate Intelligence Committee of its more than 6,000-page investigation into the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program. The study was commissioned in 2009 to examine the CIA program that started at the outset of the War on Terror in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks.

It reveals how 26 of 119 detainees did not meet the CIA’s own criteria for detention, and even heavily redacted makes for harrowing reading. One detainee spent 266 hours in a coffin-sized confinement box, at least five detainees were subjected to rectal feeding and rehydration, and the families of at least three detainees were threatened with murder and sexual abuse. One individual was waterboarded 183 times, and a photo of what appeared to be a well-used waterboarding station at Detention Site Cobalt could not be explained by CIA officials suggesting that the practice may have been more prevalent than agents realized or were willing to admit. The report describes prisoners being subjected to extensive sleep deprivation of up to 180 hours, dietary manipulation, and days of being blindfolded, with two detainees with broken feet being forced to stand for extended periods of time. One detainee died from suspected hypothermia after being left partially nude and chained to a concrete floor.

The report also in 20 prominent cases found no evidence supporting claims that such techniques had saved lives or thwarted terrorist plots. It reveals how CIA officials had systematically played down the reality of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and had sought to mislead the White House, Congress, the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, the office of the CIA’s own inspector general, and the general public, not least by trying to obstruct oversight of its rendition, detention, and interrogation program.

Current Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to the summary by clearly stating that “torture is always wrong,” and declaring that “For those of us who want to see a safer more secure world, who want to see this extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority.”

Despite claims by the former CIA head Michael Hayden that the harshest treatment meted out to any of the detainees held by the CIA between 2002 and 2008 was waterboarding, which he says was used against just three people and never after 2003, the Prime Minister did not dispute the reality of the report’s revelations. Although Cameron’s official spokesman told reporters on Wednesday, when the report was published, that to his knowledge the UK had made no requests for material to be redacted from the report, the following day the deputy official spokesman admitted that, “I think there was a conversation with the agencies and their US counterparts on the executive summary,” adding that there may have been redactions “on national security grounds.”

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather told The Guardian that it was necessary to establish definitively what had happened in the early years of the War on Terror. “It’s not good enough to kick it into the future and hope a future government will pick it up,” said Teather, adding, “We’ve had all sorts of semi-inquiries. Watching what’s happened in the last couple of days, as comments flip around, that’s the experience of campaigners who’ve been trying to get justice on behalf of people who have accused the British intelligence services of acting in this way.”

For Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis, “Downing Street’s U-turn on its previous denial that redactions had taken place tell us what we already know — that there was complicity, and that it wasn’t reflected in the Senate report.”

The Catholic Church in America, acting in line with the Catechism’s refusal to distinguish between physical and psychological torture techniques, condemned the actions revealed this week. Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said: “The Catholic Church firmly believes that torture is an ‘intrinsic evil’ that cannot be justified under any circumstance. The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong.”

For Father Dwight Longenecker, torture is “on the same level as the terrorism it seeks to fight against,” because “both torture and terrorism lower humanity to a barbarism in which there is no truth but lies, no persuasion except the persuasion of fear, no law but the law of force, no sanity but the insanity of mindless terror and no rationale but the visceral rationale of wild, screaming absurdity.”

Sister Catherine Wybourne OSB, prioress of Howton Grove Priory, Herefordshire, commented on the sad irony of such a report being published during Advent, when it is normal for silence to play an even greater role than usual in prayer and religious life. On Wednesday she wrote that, “The U.S. Senate report on the use of torture by the C.I.A. shows us another kind of silence, the collusive silence of fear and shame which has nothing redemptive in it. It is the silence of Adam and Eve after they had eaten the fatal fruit.”

“This morning I think we all feel our humanity has been diminished,” she added, “not because we are personally responsible, but because whatever one human being does to another affects us all. This shameful silence, too, has to be taken into our prayer, has somehow to be transformed, so that it is no longer destructive.”

Greg Daly  covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

TerrorismUnited Kingdom
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