In January 2002, the British government gave instructions to its intelligence agencies debriefing or interrogations prisoners captured in Afghanistan, many of whom were being abused or tortured by their US allies. The agencies asked for legal guidance, and the UK Guardian has now published what that guidance was, posting the original document online.

According to the Guardian:

The interrogation policy – details of which are believed to be too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition – instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer. It was operated by the British government for almost a decade….

One section states: “If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact of the agency seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed.

A couple of quick points, as I won’t have time to delve real far into this today.

1) The UK government’s guidance essentially asks the intelligence agents and interrogators, who specifically are not allowed to use torture or cruel treatment themselves, to assess whether the intel gathered through the torture of their US allies would have any negative effects if exposed. If so, then they are to ask for permission from higher ups to proceed. Presumably, if they believe the means of extracting information won’t ever be found out, they can proceed (though the document notes such intel can’t then be used in court).

This also means that collaboration with torture occurred most likely at higher agency levels, or even, as the document suggests, at the Minister level.

2) This document was not supposed to be revealed, not even to the controversial UK Torture Inquiry headed by Sir Peter Gibson. As the Guardian article makes clear, it is precisely this kind of information, kept secret from investigators looking at torture, that makes the official torture inquiry such a farce. It is also why a number of British human rights and legal groups have threatened to boycott the torture inquiry proceedings. (There’s actually a number of serious problems that also contribute to the threat to boycott, and are listed by the British legal charity Reprieve here.)

It’s been very hard to hold the U.S. and its allies accountable for their war crimes and torture. But such accountability is not impossible, and the torture criminals should consider the workings of the ancient Greek goddess Nemesis.

Going After Rumsfeld

A number of people have contacted me, excited about the recent decision by District judge James Gwin to allow a former U.S. interpreter in Iraq, who was held for months in isolation and tortured at Camp Cropper in Iraq, to sue Donald Rumsfeld for damages, for having approved the torture techniques, if not his actual incarceration.

From the AP story by Nedra Pickler:

Lawyers for the man, who is in his 50s, say he was preparing to return to the US on annual leave when he was detained without justification and that his family knew nothing about his whereabouts or whether he was still alive.

Court papers filed on his behalf say he was repeatedly abused, then released without explanation in August 2006. Two years later, he filed a suit in Washington arguing that Rumsfeld personally approved torturous interrogation techniques on a case-by-case basis and controlled his detention without access to the courts in violation of his constitutional rights.

I certainly wish the contractor luck, but it has been the policy of the U.S. government to do all in its power to spike such cases, and I suppose there will be appeals to higher courts.

Meanwhile, to show that justice may be delayed, and grind exceedingly fine, but that it is not always denied, consider this article, which reports that “Twenty Salvadoran soldiers await trial in Spain for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Salvadoran Civil War.” The Spanish courts under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” have threatened prosecution of Rumsfeld and others for torture, and the current criminal investigation by John Durham appears to be meant, in part at least, to stave off such prosecution by demonstrating the U.S. intends to prosecute war criminals. But that claim is certainly insufficient, even if the killers of Al Jamadi and Gul are indicted.

The struggle against torture is intimately tied to the struggle for democratic rights at home and around the world. As such, all supporters of civil liberties must make the fight for accountability their own.