Judicial rendition — the UK-US extradition treaty is a farce

Some­times I sit here read­ing the news —  on sub­jects in which I take a deep interest such as the recent police invest­ig­a­tion into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture, where the police decided not to pro­sec­ute — and feel that I should com­ment.  But really, what would be the point?  Of course the police would not find enough con­crete evid­ence, of course no indi­vidu­al spies would be held to account, des­pite the fact that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment has already paid massive set­tle­ments to the vic­tims.

BelhadjNow there are reports that the police will be invest­ig­at­ing MI6 involve­ment in the extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  The case appears bang to rights, with doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence that high-rank­ing MI6 officers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were involved in and approved the oper­a­tion.  Yet I’m will­ing to bet that the plods at Scot­land Yard will still not be able to find the requis­ite evid­ence to pro­sec­ute any­body. 

The inev­it­able (and prob­ably wished-for out­come on the part of the author­it­ies) is that people become so weary and cyn­ic­al about the lack of justice that they stop fight­ing for it.  And they can tem­por­ar­ily suc­ceed, when we suc­cumb to cyn­ic­al burnout.

But the case repor­ted in today’s Daily Mail, that of a young Brit­ish stu­dent facing extra­di­tion to the US des­pite hav­ing broken no laws in the UK, suc­ceeded in rous­ing my wrath. 

Richard_ODwyerThe hap­less 23-year old Richard O’D­wyer faces 10 years in a max­im­um secur­ity Amer­ic­an pris­on.  His crime, accord­ing to the US, is that he set up a UK-based web­site that provided links to oth­er inter­na­tion­al web­sites that allegedly hos­ted copy­right mater­i­al.

This case is so troub­ling on so many levels it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.  There are issues around the crack­down of US cor­por­ate copy­right law, issues around the inequal­ity of the uni­lat­er­al Extra­di­tion Act 2003, and his­tor­ic ques­tions of US hypo­crisy about extra­di­tion.

So let’s start with the unsup­por­ted alleg­a­tions against poor Richard O’D­wyer.  He is a stu­dent who built a web­site that col­lated a list of sites in oth­er coun­tries that host films, books and music for free down­load.  O’D­wyer did not him­self down­load any copy­righted mater­i­al, and the web­sites he linked to were appar­ently with­in jur­is­dic­tions where such down­loads are not illeg­al.  Provid­ing a sign­post to oth­er leg­al inter­na­tion­al sites is mani­festly not a crime in the UK and he has nev­er been charged.

How­ever, over the last couple of dec­ades the US enter­tain­ment lobby has been fight­ing a vicious rear­guard action against copy­right infringe­ment, start­ing with the music, then the film, and now the pub­lish­ing industry.  The lob­by­ists have proved vic­tori­ous and the invi­di­ous SOPA and PIPA laws are soon to be passed by the US Con­gress.  All well and good you might think — it’s one of those mad US issues.  But oh no, these laws have glob­al reach.  What might be leg­al with­in the UK might still mean that you fall foul of US legis­la­tion.

Gary_McKinnon2Which is where the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 becomes par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.  This law means that any UK cit­izen can be deman­ded by and handed over to the US with no prima facie evid­ence.  As we have seen in the appalling case of alleged hack­er Gary McKin­non, it mat­ters not if the “crime” were com­mit­ted on UK soil (as you can see here, McKin­non’s case was not pro­sec­uted by the UK author­it­ies in 2002.  If it had been, he would have received a max­im­um sen­tence of 6 months’ com­munity ser­vice: if extra­dited he is facing up to 70 years in a US max­im­um secur­ity pris­on).

The UK gov­ern­ment has tried to spin the egre­gious Liby­an cases as “judi­cial rendi­tion” rather than “extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping” or whatever it’s sup­posed to be.  So I think it would be accur­ate to call Gary McKin­non’s case “judi­cial rendi­tion” too, rather than bor­ing old extra­di­tion.

Richard O’D­wyer appar­ently did­n’t com­mit any­thing that could be deemed to be a crime in the UK, and yet he is still facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch.  The new US laws like SOPA threaten all of us, and not just with judi­cial rendi­tion. 

As I have men­tioned before, digit­al rights act­iv­ist Cory Doc­torow summed it up best: “you can­’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  These cor­por­ate inter­net laws are a Tro­jan horse that will threaten our basic civil liber­ties across the board.

So now to my third point.  The hypo­crisy around the Amer­ic­an stance on extra­di­tion with the UK is breath­tak­ing.   The UK has been dis­patch­ing its own cit­izens off at an alarm­ing rate to the “tender” mer­cies of the US judi­cial sys­tem since 2004, with no prima facie evid­ence required.  In fact, the leg­al proof required to get a UK cit­izen extra­dited to the US is less than that required for someone to be extra­dited from one US state to anoth­er. 

The US, on the oth­er hand, delayed rat­i­fy­ing the law until 2006, and the bur­den of proof required to extra­dite someone to the UK remains high, so it is unbal­anced not only in concept but also in prac­tice.  And this des­pite the fact that the law was seen as cru­cial to facil­it­ate the trans­fer of highly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the end­less “war on ter­ror”.

Why has this happened?  One can but spec­u­late about the power of the Irish lobby in the US gov­ern­ment, as Sir Men­zies Camp­bell did dur­ing a par­lia­ment­ary debate about the Act in 2006.   How­ever, it is well known that the US was remark­ably coy about extra­dit­ing IRA sus­pects back to the UK to stand tri­al dur­ing the 30-year “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land.  We even have well-known apo­lo­gists such as Con­gress­man Peter King, the Chair­man of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee attempt­ing to demon­ise organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks as ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions, while at the same being a life-long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA.

UK_poodleThe double stand­ards are breath-tak­ing.  The US dic­tates an extra­di­tion treaty with the UK to stop ter­ror­ism, but then uses this law to tar­get those who might poten­tially, tan­gen­tially, minutely threaten the profits of the US enter­tain­ment mega-corps; and then it delays rat­i­fy­ing and imple­ment­ing its own law for poten­tially dubi­ous polit­ic­al reas­ons.

And the UK gov­ern­ment yet again rolls over and takes it, while inno­cent stu­dents such as Richard O’D­wyer must pay the price.  As his moth­er is quoted as say­ing: “if they can come for Richard, they can come for any­one”.

Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

Libya, MI6, tor­ture, and more happy sub­jects dis­cussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV

The pro­gramme was inter­est­ing, informed and bal­anced.  Do have a watch:

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This art­icle in today’s New York Times, par­tic­u­larly these fol­low­ing two para­graphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Liby­an people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj“The most power­ful mil­it­ary lead­er is now Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, the former lead­er of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The grow­ing influ­ence of Islam­ists in Libya raises hard ques­tions about the ulti­mate char­ac­ter of the gov­ern­ment and soci­ety that will rise in place of Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi’s auto­cracy.….

.…Mr. Bel­haj has become so much an insider lately that he is seek­ing to unseat Mah­moud Jib­ril, the Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist who is the nom­in­al prime min­is­ter of the inter­im gov­ern­ment, after Mr. Jib­ril obliquely cri­ti­cized the Islam­ists.”

The Liby­ans, finally free of Gad­dafi’s 42-year dic­tat­or­ship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islam­ist fac­tion that has stated pub­licly that it wants to base the new con­sti­tu­tion on Sharia — a state­ment that must have caused a few ripples amongst Liby­a’s edu­cated and rel­at­ively  eman­cip­ated women — or a new gov­ern­ment headed up by an Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what hap­pens to coun­tries when such eco­nom­ists move in: asset strip­ping, the syphon­ing off of the nation­al wealth to transna­tion­al mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s liv­ing stand­ards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excel­lent “Shock Doc­trine” — required read­ing for any­one who wants to truly under­stand the grow­ing glob­al fin­an­cial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal out­come for the US, UK and oth­er west­ern forces who inter­vened in Libya. 

Mr Bel­haj is, of course, anoth­er mat­ter.  Not only would an Islam­ist Libya be a poten­tially dan­ger­ous res­ult for the West, but should Bel­haj come to power he is likely to be some­what hos­tile to US and par­tic­u­larly Brit­ish interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Bel­haj has form.  He was a lead­ing light in the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, a ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion which bought into the ideo­logy of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi, some­times with the fin­an­cial back­ing of the Brit­ish spies, most not­ably in the failed assas­sin­a­tion plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gad­dafi’s rap­proche­ment with the West, this col­lab­or­a­tion was all air-brushed out of his­tory — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instru­ment­al in  kid­nap­ping Bel­haj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordin­ar­ily ren­der­ing” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ tor­ture at the hands of Liby­a’s bru­tal intel­li­gences ser­vices.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK com­pan­ies.

So I’m will­ing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes med­dling from our spooks, to ensure the ascend­ency of Jib­ril in the new gov­ern­ment.  Which will be great for West­ern busi­ness, but not so great for the poor Liby­ans.….

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Liby­an spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-pro­file defect­or, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mand­er of the rebel Liby­an forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­teri­al sign-off to be leg­al under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” with­in the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of Dav­id Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to pris­on twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Liby­an and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Liby­an Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletch­er in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illeg­al and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But wheth­er an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

RTTV Interview: Libya — the perfect storm

My RTTV inter­view today about Libya, tor­ture, and UK double-deal­ing:

 

Lawyers challenge integrity of UK spy torture inquiry

Gareth_Peirce_1It was widely repor­ted today that a num­ber of well-respec­ted Brit­ish law­yers and civil liber­ties organ­isa­tions are ques­tion­ing the integ­rity of the much-trum­peted inquiry into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture.

And about time too.  One hopes this is all part of a wider strategy, not merely a defens­ive reac­tion to the usu­al power play on the part of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment.  After all, it has been appar­ent from the start that the whole inquiry would be ques­tion­able when it was announced that Sir Peter Gib­son would be chair­ing the inquiry.

Gib­son has cer­tain form.  He was until recently the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Com­mis­sion­er — the very per­son who for the last five years has been invited into MI5, MI6 and GCHQ for cosy annu­al chats with care­fully selec­ted intel­li­gence officers (ie those who won’t rock the boat), to report back to the gov­ern­ment that demo­crat­ic over­sight was work­ing won­der­fully, and it was all A‑OK in the spy organ­isa­tions.

After these years of happy frat­ern­ising, when his name was put for­ward to invest­ig­ate poten­tial crim­in­al com­pli­city in tor­ture on the part of the spies, he did the pub­licly decent thing and resigned as Com­mis­sion­er to take up the post of chair of the Tor­ture Inquiry.

Well, we know the estab­lish­ment always like a safe pair of hands.…  and this safety has also been pretty much guar­an­teed by law for the last six years. 

Ever since the Inquir­ies Act 2005 was pushed through as law, with rel­at­ively little press aware­ness or par­lia­ment­ary oppos­i­tion, gov­ern­ment depart­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies have pretty much been able to call the shots when it comes to the scope of sup­posedly inde­pend­ent inquir­ies.

Malcolm_RifkindInter­est­ingly, Tory grandee Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary who now chairs the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, has also weighed in to the debate.  On BBC Radio 4’s Today pro­gramme he stated:

I can­not recol­lect an inquiry that’s been pro­posed to be so open as we’re hav­ing in this par­tic­u­lar case. When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 – the prime min­is­ter has made quite clear – can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evid­ence?

This from the seni­or politi­cian who has always denied that he was offi­cially briefed about the illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya in 1996; this from the man who is now call­ing for the arm­ing of the very same extrem­ists to topple Gad­dafi in the ongo­ing shambles that is the Liby­an War; and this from the man who is also loudly call­ing for an exten­sion of the ISC’s leg­al powers so that it can demand access to wit­nesses and doc­u­ments from the spy organ­isa­tions. 

No doubt my head will stop spin­ning in a day or two.…

UK spies get a B+ for intrusive surveillance in 2010

Black_sheep?The quan­go­crats charged with over­see­ing the leg­al­ity of the work of the UK spies have each pro­duced their undoubt­ably author­it­at­ive reports for 2010. 

Sir Paul Kennedy, the com­mis­sion­er respons­ible for over­see­ing the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions, and Sir Peter Gib­son, the intel­li­gence ser­vices com­mis­sion­er, both pub­lished their reports last week.  

Gib­son has, of course, hon­our­ably now stood down from his 5‑year over­sight of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ in order to head up the inde­pend­ent enquiry into spy com­pli­city in tor­ture. 

And both the reports say, nat­ur­ally, that it’s all hunky-dorey.  Yes, there were a few mis­takes (well, admis­trat­ive errors — 1061 over the last year), but the com­mis­sion­ers are con­fid­ent that these were neither malign in intent nor an indic­a­tion of insti­tu­tion­al fail­ings. 

So it appears that the UK spies gained a B+ for their sur­veil­lance work last year.

Both com­mis­sion­ers pad out their reports with long-win­ded descrip­tions of what pre­cisely their role is, what powers they have, and the full, frank and open access they had to the intel­li­gence officers in the key agen­cies. 

They seem sub­limely unaware that when they vis­it the spy agen­cies, they are only giv­en access to the staff that the agen­cies are happy for them to meet — intel­li­gence officers pushed into the room, primped out in their party best and scrubbed behind the ears — to tell them what they want to hear. 

Any intel­li­gence officers who might have con­cerns have, in the past, been rig­or­ously banned from meet­ing those charged with hold­ing the spies to demo­crat­ic account.….

.…which is not much dif­fer­ent from the over­sight mod­el employed when gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, the notion­al polit­ic­al mas­ters of MI6, MI6 and GCHQ, sign off on bug­ging war­rants that allow the aggress­ive invest­ig­a­tion of tar­gets (ie their phones, their homes or cars, or fol­low them around).  Then the min­is­ters are only giv­en a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary, an applic­a­tion that has been titrated through many mana­geri­al, leg­al and civil ser­vice fil­ters before land­ing on their desks.  

So, how on earth are these min­is­ters able to make a true eval­u­ation of the worth of such an applic­a­tion to bug someone? 

They just have to trust what the spies tell them — as do the com­mis­sion­ers. 

How the Light Gets In festival — my talk

My recent talk at the excel­lent How the Light Gets In philo­sophy fest­iv­al at Hay-on-Wye.  With cred­it and thanks to IAI TV and the staff of the Insti­tute of Art and Ideas, the organ­isers the event.

 

Guantanamo Files: was Bin Hamlili really an MI6 source?

My recent art­icle in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per about the strange, sad case of yet anoth­er Guantanamo vic­tim.

Guantá­namo Bay files: Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source?

With dirty tricks rife in the secret ser­vice we may nev­er know the truth about the Algeri­an car­pet-seller­’s ver­sion of events.

Anoth­er cache of intel­li­gence nas­ties has emerged, blink­ing, into the main­stream media day­light by way of WikiLeaks. This time, the inform­a­tion is drawn from offi­cial Guantá­namo reports on detain­ees, draw­ing on inform­a­tion gleaned over the years of “enhanced” inter­rog­a­tions.

One case that caught my atten­tion was that of Algeri­an car­pet seller Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Ham­lili, an alleged “al-Qaida oper­at­ive, facil­it­at­or, cour­i­er, kid­nap­per and assas­sin” who also appar­ently worked as an agent of CSIS (Cana­dian Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice) and our very own MI6. So was this man a double-agent, play­ing his own lonely game and caught between the demands of his al-Qaida con­tacts and his west­ern hand­lers? Or has MI6 been employ­ing its very own al-Qaida assas­sin?

The report states that this is Bin Ham­lili’s story in his own words – no doubt freely uttered as he emerged, splut­ter­ing, from yet anoth­er inter­rog­a­tion. It appears that he entered the mujahideen world when he was a child in the 1980s, fight­ing the Soviet occu­pa­tion of Afgh­anistan. An era when the group was very much an ally of the west, fun­ded, trained and armed by the CIA and MI6 in the fight against the Soviet Uni­on.

This could very well have led to MI6 and/or CSIS approach­ing Bin Ham­lili as a poten­tial source of human intel­li­gence. Humint sources are the crown jew­els of intel­li­gence work – able to reach parts bey­ond the range of elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance. The down­side, of course, is that they are merely human and need strong sup­port and backup to sur­vive their dan­ger­ous job, year after year. This is some­thing that is not always provided to them and they can often end up feel­ing exposed, increas­ingly para­noid and in real danger, play­ing every side just to sur­vive.

While some agents do indeed suf­fer a genu­ine revul­sion towards their earli­er alle­gi­ances – the basic ideo­lo­gic­al shift – and try to atone by help­ing the spooks, most are entrapped by the oth­er three points in the clas­sic spy acronym: money, ideo­logy, com­prom­ise, ego. These are more shaded, com­pelled motiv­a­tions that can lead to resent­ment and poten­tial double-deal­ing, and require close agent hand­ling and care. Unfor­tu­nately, this is often lack­ing.

So wel­come to the clas­sic intel­li­gence “hall of mir­rors”. Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source? Or was this just an attempt to stop the tor­ture in Guantá­namo, how­ever tem­por­ar­ily? Per­haps he was play­ing both sides? Or per­haps he faith­fully repor­ted back to his CSIS/MI6 hand­lers but his reports were not effect­ively acted on – this hap­pens in the intel­li­gence agen­cies – and the culp­able officers brushed these mis­takes under the car­pet by claim­ing “agent unre­li­ab­il­ity” or “lack of co-oper­a­tion”.

Or, more wor­ry­ingly, Bin Ham­lili might indeed have had an effect­ive work­ing rela­tion­ship with his hand­lers and was actu­ally tasked in his work as pro­vocateur or even ter­ror­ist, for some arcane intel­li­gence pur­poses. But once caught, he was deemed to be polit­ic­ally embar­rass­ing and hung out to dry.

This would cer­tainly not be the first time this has happened to intel­li­gence agents. Dirty tricks were intrins­ic in the dirty war in North­ern Ire­land from the early 1970s, and agents such as Mar­tin McGart­land, Denis Don­ald­son (deceased) and Kev­in Fulton have learned all too bru­tally what the phrase “hung out to dry” really means.

This was not restric­ted to North­ern Ire­land. In 1996, MI6 illeg­ally fun­ded an “al-Qaida” coup to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi, using as its agent a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer. The attempt mani­festly failed, although inno­cent people were killed in the attempt. This was all hushed up at the time, but now seems rather tame as we watch our defence sec­ret­ary, Liam Fox, fly out to dis­cuss with his US coun­ter­part, Robert Gates, the overt assas­sin­a­tion of Gad­dafi using pred­at­or drones. State ter­ror­ism as the new dip­lomacy?

I doubt we shall ever now know the truth behind Bin Ham­lili’s report. The expos­ure of the Guantá­namo régime high­lights once again that tor­ture is coun­ter­pro­duct­ive – it panders to the pre­con­cep­tions of the inter­rog­at­ors and acts as a recruit­ing ground for future poten­tial ter­ror­ists. This used to be the con­sensus even with­in our intel­li­gence agen­cies, pre‑9/11. They need to re-remem­ber the les­sons of his­tory, and their human­ity.

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.…

Well, if you’ve done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide.  Why object to increas­ing state sur­veil­lance powers?”

I speak reg­u­larly at inter­na­tion­al events about basic freedoms, civil liber­ties and encroach­ing police states, and this is one of the most fre­quently asked ques­tions.

This ques­tion is usu­ally posed in the con­text of the ubi­quit­ous CCTV cam­er­as that infest the streets of Bri­tain, where it is estim­ated that you can be pho­to­graphed hun­dreds of times a day going about your daily busi­ness in Lon­don. 

DroneNot to men­tion the talk­ing CCTV cam­er­as in the North of Eng­land, nor the increas­ing use of spy drones (as yet, reportedly, unweapon­ised — at least leth­ally)  over the skies of Bri­tain.  Nor the fact that the police officers in charge of CCTV units admit that the tech­no­logy is only use­ful as evid­ence in 3% of cases, and that viol­ent crime has actu­ally gone up since the spread of CCTV, so we’re cer­tainly no safer on our streets.

Nor do the well-mean­ing people ask­ing this ques­tion (who, one pre­sumes, have nev­er-ever done any­thing wrong in their lives, even to the extent of not drop­ping lit­ter) seem to grasp the his­tor­ic­al evid­ence: they retain an optim­ist­ic faith in the long-term benign inten­tions of our gov­ern­ments.

Yet as we’ve seen time and time again in his­tory, more dubi­ous, total­it­ari­an and malig­nant gov­ern­ments can indeed gain power, and will abuse and extend the sur­veil­lance laws and avail­able tech­no­logy against their own peoples.  And I’m not just talk­ing about Hitler­’s rise to power in the 1930s or the East Ger­man Stasi, although I’m in agree­ment with UK Edu­ca­tion Sec­ret­ary Michael Gove at the moment in say­ing that his­tory les­sons are nev­er a waste.…

Big_Brother_posterBut we also need to learn more recent les­sons: the UK in the 1970s-1990s, where the Irish com­munity as a whole was tar­geted because of fringe Repub­lic­an ter­ror­ism; or the Muslim com­munity post‑9/11, which lives with the real fear of of being arres­ted, extraordin­ar­ily rendered, tor­tured, or even assas­sin­ated on the say-so of unac­count­able intel­li­gence agen­cies; or even peace­ful protest groups in the USA and UK who are infilt­rated and aggress­ively invest­ig­ated by Stasi-like police officers.

The Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was put in place for a very good reas­on in 1948: to pre­vent the hor­rors of state ter­ror­ism, viol­ence and gen­o­cide from ever hap­pen­ing again.  Amongst the essen­tial, inter­na­tion­ally-agreed core prin­ciples are the right to life, the right not to be tor­tured, free­dom of expres­sion, and the right to indi­vidu­al pri­vacy. 

Which brings me neatly back to the start of this art­icle.  This is pre­cisely why increas­ing state sur­veil­lance is a prob­lem.  Because of the post‑9/11, over-inflated, hyped-up threat from soi-dis­ant ter­ror­ist groups, we are all being pen­al­ised.  The bal­ance of power is shift­ing over­whelm­ingly in favour of the Big Broth­er state.

Well, almost.  The Wikileaks mod­el is help­ing to level the play­ing field, and whatever hap­pens to this trail-blaz­ing organ­isa­tion, the prin­ciples and tech­no­logy are out there and will be rep­lic­ated.  The genie can­not be put back in the bottle.

So, why not pose the very ques­tion in the title of this piece back on those who want to turn back the clock and erad­ic­ate Wikileaks — the gov­ern­ments, mega-cor­por­a­tions, and intel­li­gence agen­cies which have been outed, shamed and embar­rassed, and which are now try­ing to sup­press its work?

If you’ve done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide.….


UK spies continue to lie about torture

Jonathan_EvansWhat a dif­fer­ence a year makes in the may­fly minds of the old media. 

In Feb­ru­ary 2010 The Guard­i­an’s res­id­ent spook watch­er, Richard Norton-Taylor, repor­ted that the serving head of MI5, Jonath­an Evans, had been forced in 2008 to con­fess to the cred­u­lous and com­pli­ant Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment that the spies had lied, yet again, about their com­pli­city in tor­ture.

This con­fes­sion came shortly after the ISC had released its “author­it­at­ive” report about rendi­tion and tor­ture, assert­ing that there had been no such com­pli­city.  How did the ISC get this so utterly wrong?

It turns out that in 2006 Bar­on­ess Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller, Evans’s pre­de­cessor in the MI5 hot-seat, had misled the ISC about MI5’s aware­ness of the use of tor­ture against ter­ror­ist sus­pects, par­tic­u­larly the hap­less Binyam Mohamed, whose case was wend­ing its way through the Brit­ish courts.  Bul­ly­ing-Man­ner (as she is known in the cor­ridors of power) appears to have been cov­er­ing up for her pre­de­cessor, Sir Steph­en Lander, who was quoted in The Tele­graph in March 2001 as say­ing “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee [ISC] early on”.….

MusharrafBut Evans had to come clean to the ISC because of the Mohamed court case, and Norton-Taylor wrote, by the Grauny’s stand­ards, his fairly hard-hit­ting art­icle last year. 

Yes­ter­day, how­ever, he seems to be back-track­ing frantic­ally.  Fol­low­ing an inter­view by the BBC with former Pakistani Pres­id­ent Per­vez Mush­ar­raf appear­ing to con­firm that MI5 did indeed turn a blind eye to the use of tor­ture, Richard Norton-Taylor and oth­er mem­bers of our esteemed Fourth Estate are once again quot­ing Bar­on­ess Man­ning­ham-Buller­’s dicred­ited li(n)es to the ISC as gos­pel truth, and for­get­ing both the serving head of MI5’s unavoid­able con­fes­sion and the evid­ence from the Mohamed court case itself.

The ISC was put in place fol­low­ing the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act as a demo­crat­ic fig-leaf: it is not a fully-func­tion­ing, inde­pend­ent over­sight com­mit­tee, as it is only able to report on mat­ters of spy policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion.  It has no powers to invest­ig­ate prop­erly alleg­a­tions of crime, tor­ture or oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence, is unable to demand doc­u­ments or inter­view wit­nesses under oath, and is appoin­ted by and answer­able only to the Prime Min­is­ter.  It has been lied to by the spies and seni­or police time and time again — the very people it notion­ally over­sees.  As I have writ­ten before, the ISC has since its incep­tion failed to address many key intel­li­gence mat­ters of the day, instead spend­ing its time nit­pick­ing over details.

In the face of this utter lack of intel­li­gence account­ab­il­ity and trans­par­ency, is it any won­der that sites like Wikileaks have caught the pub­lic’s ima­gin­a­tion?  Wikileaks is an obvi­ous and neces­sary reac­tion to the endem­ic secrecy, gov­ern­ment­al back-scratch­ing and cov­er-ups that are not only wrong in prin­ciple in a notion­al demo­cracy, but have also res­ul­ted dir­ectly in illeg­al wars, tor­ture and the erosion of our tra­di­tion­al freedoms.

Cambridge Union Society, 28th January 2011

CUS_3Well I had a fab time revis­it­ing the old place last week to do a talk at the Uni­on Soci­ety — some­where I spent many happy hours, oh, aeons ago!

Many thanks to Rebecca and the rest of the team for organ­ising and host­ing the event, and to Silkie for set­ting the whole ball rolling.

It was a busy week­end.  The Fri­day even­ing began with an all-too-brief appear­ance at the first meet­ing of a new group, MI7 — can I say that, or is it a state secret? — organ­ised by Silkie and Charlie Veitch of the Love Police

CUS_1It was strange to go back to the Uni­on as a speak­er after so long and so many unusu­al exper­i­ences.  The audi­ence seemed to stay wide awake for my hour-long talk, and the ques­tions after­wards were inter­est­ing, lively and var­ied.  I was also encour­aged to see that ideas deemed to be “rad­ic­al” only a few years ago are now going main­stream.

The next day was taken up with inter­views for The Cam­bridge Stu­dent and Varsity stu­dent news­pa­pers, Sky 203 Chan­nel,  and a photo shoot with QH Pho­to­graphy for a gal­lery exhib­i­tion in Lon­don later this year.

The Cam­bridge Stu­dent journ­al­ists gamely allowed the inter­view to be film by Sky 203 — not the easi­est of scen­ari­os.

Varsity” news­pa­per did a col­our­ful and intel­li­gent inter­view — thanks Olivia! — which was rap­idly fol­lowed on the news­pa­per web­site today with this puff piece about MI6

I can only assume that this is merely bal­anced news report­ing, espe­cially as the Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Chair of the Trust­ee Board of the Uni­on Soci­ety, and former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dear­love, will be speak­ing at the Uni­on in a couple of weeks.…. 

Cambridge_1Cer­tainly an inter­est­ing jux­ta­pos­i­tion!

The photo shoot was fun, and the res­ults will be appear­ing in Lon­don at the end of this year.  As you can see from the photo on the left, Huy takes a mean pic­ture.

I also ran into Ryan J‑W Smith, who is in the pro­cess of com­plet­ing his intriguing film, 2Plus2Makes4.  Lim­ited private and fest­iv­al screen­ings are expec­ted this sum­mer.

The film syn­op­sis asks some fun­da­ment­al ques­tions:

How close are we to slid­ing into Orwell’s total­it­ari­an night­mare, ‘1984’? Con­tro­ver­sial, shock­ing, power­ful and hon­est — star­ring Tony Benn, Gore Vid­al, former MI5, CIA, FBI agents, Sen­at­ors, Pres­id­en­tial Nom­in­ees, etc.  A ‘Must-See’ fea­ture doc­u­ment­ary from award-win­ning film­maker, Ryan J‑W Smith. Smith’s pre­vi­ous films have received 16 Inter­na­tion­al Film Fest­iv­al Selec­tions, 5 ‘Best Film’ Nom­in­a­tions, and 4 ‘Best Film’ wins.”

RTTV interview — in defence of Wikileaks

On 6 Decem­ber I appeared on RTTV’s CrossTalk dis­cus­sion pro­gramme along­side whis­tleblow­ing UK ex-dip­lo­mat Carne Ross, to talk about the implic­a­tions of Wikileaks:

 

 

Remember, remember the 5th of November.…

Annie_on_Conviction_DayNovem­ber 5th has long had many levels of res­on­ance for me: Bon­fire Night of course, when I was a child — fire­works in the garden and burnt baked pota­toes from the fire; since the age of sev­en, cel­eb­rat­ing the birth­day of my old­est friend; and, since 2002, the memory of hav­ing to stand up in the wit­ness stand in an Old Bailey court room in Lon­don to give a mit­ig­a­tion plea at the tri­al of my former part­ner, see­ing his sen­tence reduced from the expec­ted thir­teen months to a “mere” six, and then hav­ing to deal for weeks with the media fall-out.  A strange mix of memor­ies.

Dav­id Shayler endured a “Kafkaesque tri­al” in 2002 in the sense that he was not allowed to make a defence due to gov­ern­ment-imposed gag­ging orders, des­pite all the rel­ev­ant mater­i­al already hav­ing been widely pubished in the media.  The issues were summed up well in this New States­man art­icle from that time. 

But the cur­rent debate about con­trol orders used against so-called ter­ror­ist sus­pects — my emphas­is — adds a whole new dimen­sion to the notori­ous phrase.

This recent, excel­lent art­icle in The Guard­i­an by law­yer Mat­thew Ryder about con­trol orders sums it up.  How can you defend a cli­ent if you are not even allowed access to the inform­a­tion that has led to the ori­gin­al accus­a­tion?

The Lib­er­al Demo­crats, in the run-up to the Gen­er­al Elec­tion earli­er this year, pledged to do away with con­trol orders, as they are an affront to the Brit­ish mod­el of justice.  How­ever, MI5 is put­ting up a strong defence for their reten­tion, but then they would, would­n’t they? 

Much of the “secret” evid­ence that leads to a con­trol order appears to come from tele­phone inter­cept, but why on earth can this evid­ence not be revealed in a court of law?  It’s not like the notion of tele­phone bug­ging is a state secret these days, as I argued in The Guard­i­an way back in 2005.

BirmsixBear­ing all of the above in mind, do have a read of this inter­view with Paddy Hill, one of the vic­tims of the notori­ous wrong­ful con­vic­tions for the IRA Birm­ing­ham pub bomb­ings in 1974.  After being arres­ted, threatened, tor­tured and trau­mat­ised, he was forced to con­fess to a ter­rible crime he had not com­mit­ted. 

As a res­ult, he had to endure six­teen years in pris­on before his inno­cence was con­firmed.  He is still suf­fer­ing the con­sequences, des­pite hav­ing found the strength to set up the “Mis­car­riages of Justice Organ­isa­tion” to help oth­er vic­tims.

And then have a think about wheth­er we should blindly trust the word of the secur­ity forces and the police when they state that we have to give away yet more of our hard-won freedoms and rights in the name of the ever-shift­ing, ever-neb­u­lous “war on ter­ror”. 

Do we really need to hold ter­ror­ist sus­pects in police cells for 28 days without charge?  Will we really con­tin­ue to allow the head of MI6 to get away with blithely assert­ing, unchal­lenged, that Brit­ish intel­li­gence does its very best not to “bene­fit” from inform­a­tion extrac­ted via unthink­able tor­ture, as former UK ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray so graph­ic­ally described in his blog on 29th Octo­ber?

I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was put in place for a reas­on in 1948.  Let’s all draw a breath, and remem­ber, remem­ber.….