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.