A Tale of Two Tortures

First pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

It was with some dis­be­lief that I read of two tor­ture-related stor­ies emer­ging around the same time last week. The first was about the leg­al vic­tory of Abdul Hakim Bel­haj, Liby­an dis­sid­ent, kid­nap vic­tim of MI6 and the CIA, and tor­ture vic­tim of Col­on­el Gad­dafi. UK gov­ern­ment­al apo­lo­gies were finally made and repar­a­tion paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of tor­ture con­demned.

Mean­while, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full dis­gust­ing dis­play. Our Amer­ic­an chums are in the pro­cess of attempt­ing to appoint an alleged notori­ous tor­turer as the head of the CIA.

While nom­in­ee Gina Haspel had soft-ball ques­tions lobbed at her by a tame pack of sen­at­ors at her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, retired CIA seni­or ana­lyst, former pres­id­en­tial briefer, and now justice act­iv­ist, Ray McGov­ern, who stood up and said what the Sen­at­ors knew, but would not say; namely that she super­vised — dir­ectly, on site — the water­board­ing of Al Nashiri, who had been kid­napped and brought to the first secret CIA pris­on abroad (in Thai­l­and) for “inter­rog­a­tion.” McGov­ern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when addi­tion­al police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By jux­ta­pos­ing these two incid­ents I am not try­ing to make the point that the UK is mor­ally bet­ter than the USA when it comes to tor­ture over the last 17 years – mani­festly it has not been – but cer­tainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of tor­ture was ver­boten. Partly for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but mainly because the Brit­ish Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-pro­duct­ive the use of tor­ture and illeg­al impris­on­ment could be dur­ing the early stages of the bit­ter civil war in North­ern Ire­land in the 1970s.

Unfor­tu­nately those hard-won les­sons were gen­er­a­tion­al, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a res­ult, come the after­math of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh mil­it­ary retali­ation, illeg­al war, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, the com­pli­ant Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies fol­lowed hel­ter-skel­ter down the same path, all in the name of the spe­cial intel­li­gence rela­tion­ship.

So, back to the Bel­haj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to trans­port you back to 1995. Although the US-fun­ded Mujahideen in Afgh­anistan was by then morph­ing into Al Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emer­gent, if region­al threat, peace seemed to be break­ing out all over the world: the Cold War was offi­cially over, a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to the civil war in North­ern Ire­land was in the mak­ing, and there even seemed to be some pro­gress with the run­ning polit­ic­al sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occu­pa­tion, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

How­ever, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the West­ern intel­li­gence hit list. Partly because it was sus­pec­ted by the UK gov­ern­ment to have been behind the Lock­er­bie bomb­ing in 1988 and the search for the per­pet­rat­ors was a top level pri­or­ity for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any pro­gress, and partly because Gad­dafi had largely closed the huge Liby­an oil reserves to West­ern oil com­pan­ies.

So when, in 1995, a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer (sub­sequently code­named TUNWORTH) walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gad­dafi, solve the Lock­er­bie case, and allow Bri­tain and its allies to once again plun­der the vast Liby­an oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islam­ist extrem­ists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted sup­port and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illeg­al under UK law, which required a min­is­teri­al sign-off before such an oper­a­tion, it went wrong, and it killed inno­cent people. How much hein­ous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Bel­haj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (LIFG), the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had fun­ded for this attack. As a res­ult, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the inter­na­tion­al fold fol­low­ing his notori­ous deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Min­is­ter, Tony Blair, in 2004, Bel­haj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his preg­nant wife were tracked down and inter­cep­ted by MI6 in Kuala Lum­pur, Malay­sia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thai­l­and and held in a CIA black site, before onward trans­it to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Bel­haj and his preg­nant wife were lashed to the floor of a US mil­it­ary trans­port plan for the dur­a­tion.

Bel­haj was sub­sequently held in the notori­ous Abu Selim pris­on for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tor­tured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

All that might have been that, except the West made a cata­stroph­ic decision to once again try to depose Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its Pres­id­ent at the time, Nic­olas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reli­able UK and USA, in a “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tion” to pro­tect the cit­izens of Islam­ist Benghazi – which by the way was not under dir­ect threat at the time. Anoth­er fab­ric­ated excuse for a West­ern war of aggres­sion.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is cur­rently under invest­ig­a­tion for illeg­ally accept­ing fifty mil­lion euros from Gad­dafi to fund his bid for the French Pres­id­ency in the 2007 elec­tion, and in the same year Gad­dafi was awar­ded a full state vis­it to France.)

This time the West achieved openly and shame­lessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shame­fully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gad­dafi, who was caught, bru­tal­ised and buggered with a bay­on­et, murdered, and his mutil­ated corpse  left on dis­play for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was cap­tured, tor­tured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-enter­ing the polit­ic­al fray in Libya.

In the chaos that fol­lowed the over­throw of Gad­dafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of doc­u­ments left in the office of notori­ous intel­li­gence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the coun­try ini­tially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these doc­u­ments was a let­ter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Ter­ror­ism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facil­it­ate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a con­grat­u­lat­ory let­ter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facil­it­ate the cap­ture of Bel­haj, and effect­ively to see him as a “gift” to the Liby­an régime in 2004, as a ges­ture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s let­ter to Musa Kusa, sub­mit­ted by Belhaj’s law­yers:

I con­grat­u­late you on the safe arrival of [Mr Bel­haj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demon­strate the remark­able rela­tion­ship we have built over recent years.….Amusingly, we got a request from the Amer­ic­ans to chan­nel requests for inform­a­tion from [Mr Bel­haj] through the Amer­ic­ans. I have no inten­tion of doing any such thing. The intel­li­gence about [Mr Bel­haj] was Brit­ish… I feel I have the right to deal with you dir­ect on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gad­dafi régime fatally trus­ted its new rela­tion­ship with the West; and a man and his preg­nant wife suffered, and the coun­try as a whole con­tin­ues to suf­fer immensely from the ensu­ing civil war that fol­lowed Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion..

The court case last week in the UK was a vic­tory for them. Bel­haj him­self, des­pite suc­cess­ive UK gov­ern­ments offer­ing one mil­lion pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknow­ledge­ment and apo­logy from the UK gov­ern­ment about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accep­ted half of the amount offered. The three UK key play­ers – PM Tony Blair, For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen nat­ur­ally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blem­ish to their repu­ta­tions….

So are we likely to see the same admis­sion of guilt from the instig­at­ors of the US tor­ture pro­gramme?

Far from it. Even if the Gina Haspel con­firm­a­tion hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton goes against her, the fact she was even con­sidered for the post of head­ing the CIA is utterly shame­less. As was the dis­gust­ing treat­ment of CIA pen­sion­er and peace pro­test­er, Ray McGov­ern.

Discussing the Belhaj Torture Case with George Galloway

I enjoyed my inter­view on UK Talk Radio with George Gal­lo­way this even­ing about the set­tle­ment of the shock­ing Liy­ban Bel­haj tor­ture case — I have been fol­low­ing this for years and am very glad to see that he finally got justice.

Annie Machon, former MI5 Officer, dis­cusses Bel­haj rendi­tion case with George Gal­lo­way from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

I have been fol­low­ing the case since it star­ted, as you can see here from my art­icle in 2012. But I do now fear for Iran, after what has happened to Libya and Syr­ia.