A new report published by the United Kingdom-based new organization The Guardian highlights the rendition and torture of a Libyan militant, who led the fight against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and his pregnant wife.
Making use of documents uncovered in Tripoli after Gaddafi was defeated by coalition and rebel forces last year, the report pays particular attention to revelations on UK involvement in an act that was previously believed to have been authorized solely by the United States.
Part 1 highlighted details surrounding the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar. Now, here is Part 2, which focuses on how the US could potentially interfere with their attempt to bring British intelligence agents to justice.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al Saadi are suing Sir Mark Allen, who likely played a key role in the rendition of Belhaj and Saadi to Libya where they would inevitably be tortured. In one of the documents found, Allen, then-head of counterterrorism at MI6, congratulates Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Belhaj. He adds it is “the least we could do for you and for Libya.”
The fact that the CIA wanted any intelligence from Belhaj and Saadi to be shared with them is called “amusing.” Allen also writes the intelligence that led to the rendition of Belhaj and his wife was British.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) announced last December that the allegations raised in the case of the two Libyan were “so serious” that it was in the “public interest for them to be investigated.” But, the UK government is simultaneously recommending that “closed material procedures” be employed in cases like these so that “sensitive security information is not disclosed.”
This, as The Guardian describes, would mean “claimants would not be able to see evidence used against them and may never even be given the court’s final judgment.” The change is a “response to cases where former detainees have sued the security services for their treatment in Guantánamo Bay and other holding prisons, alleging they have been subjected to torture or abuse.”
Lawyers for Belhaj’s wife, Fatima Bouchar, see this as a mechanism that could be used to ensure cases are litigated in secret to protect British intelligence agents.
Sapna Malik, of the law firm Leigh Day, says: “Fatima’s utterly barbaric treatment, and Britain’s role in it, must come under the full scrutiny of an open court and not be condemned to a secret chamber.”
Cori Crider of the legal charity Reprieve, which is also representing her, added: “It is bad enough that MI6 and the CIA had Abdel Hakim Belhaj tortured, when his only opponent was Colonel Gaddafi, but it is impossible to see what they hoped to achieve by kidnapping his pregnant wife, taping her up and forcing her on a plane back to Libya.
“Instead of saying sorry, the security services are busily trying to shunt Fatima’s case and those like it into secret. Make no mistake: when Ken Clarke says a ‘tiny’ category of national security cases will be heard in closed court, it is Fatima, taped to the stretcher, he and those behind him have in mind.”
Last week, Clarke, the UK justice secretary, renewed controversy surrounding plans to have secret court proceedings when he said that “US security services had become ‘extremely cautious’ when dealing with Britain on the basis that shared national secrets risked being made public in open hearings.”
The justice secretary then backpedaled almost immediately and denied the plans to let “spies” give evidence in secret were not a result of “immense American pressure.” But, he admitted that what had happened in the case of Binyam Mohamed had gotten in “the way of cooperation.” He added, “If they fear our courts, they won’t give us the material.”
In 2008, Mohamed sued the UK government to force the release of documents on his detention in Guantanamo Bay prison from 2004 to 2009. This is what the US government fears most: transparency.
The full implications of US pressure should be noted. Mohamed was brutally tortured. He experienced beatings while in the prison that, according to The Observer, led to “bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, severe damage to ligaments as well as profound emotional and psychological problems which [was] exacerbated by the refusal of Guantánamo’s guards to give him counseling.”
His US military lawyer, Lt. Col Yvonne Bradley, says he was “severely beaten,” something Bradley doesn’t like to think about because “my country is behind all this.” It is also likely that he was beaten after President Barack Obama announced the “closure” of Guantanamo in January 2009.
Mohamed was rendered by US officials to Morocco. For 18 months, he was interrogated and tortured. A razor blade was used to cut his genitals. A hot stinging liquid was at one point poured on the cuts. He was forced to listen to loud music, placed in a room with sewage, drugged numerous times and threatened with rape, electrocution and death.
He was rendered to Afghanistan next. US officials took him to a prison known as the “Dark Prison,” where “captors” hit his head against the wall until it bled. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s profile then indicates he was “thrown into a tiny cell measuring barely more than two meters in either direction and chained to the floor. Despite the extreme cold, he was given only shorts and a thin shirt to wear and a single blanket as thin as a sheet.” Horrifying treatment continued until he was taken to Bagram and shortly after was flown to Guantanamo.
When the United States applies pressure to the UK government so that cases involving intelligence agents occur in secret, this is what they are trying to keep from being disclosed. They are trying to keep victims’ allegations of torture at the hands of the CIA from ever being substantiated by whatever evidence the UK might have of the agency’s involvement. They are trying to prevent what happened in Italy in 2009 when CIA agents were symbolically convicted from ever happening again. And they are protecting military members that ordered torture during interrogations.
Essentially, closing proceedings would make parts of civil court proceedings function like the military commissions terror suspects are to be tried before in America. For example, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is alleged to have been involved in masterminding the USS Cole bombing and who was tortured by the CIA, is to testify in a closed hearing on how he was brutally and inhumanely treated when he was held in a secret prison. The Pentagon aims to shield the CIA from further scrutiny by keeping the hearing that Al-Nashiri will testify during closed, a power that the Pentagon can utilize because Al-Nashiri is being tried in a second-class justice system the US has established to ensure terror suspects are convicted and the impact of torture allegations on verdicts is limited.
If this push is successful, US operations would not just be protected but, as already briefly suggested, British intelligence agents would likely be protected as well. The nature of the secret proceedings would make it possible to get away with limiting the discovery or presentation of certain evidence. Belhaj and Saadi would be less likely to get a fair trial. The court proceedings would probably be a whitewash and make it possible to move forward without litigating any other cases.
Finally, the UK is not only moving to make aspects of civil court proceedings function like American military tribunals. The country is also planning on doing away with a mechanism that made it possible for Mohamed to force the disclosure of information on his rendition and torture. So, again, the US pressure is aimed at making it impossible for victims to bring attention to crimes or wrongdoing committed by the US in the “war on terror.”
The documents on victims rendered to Libya and the plans to make court proceedings secret make clear the fact that the UK is an accomplice in the continued commitment of brutal human rights violations that the US government has decided must be protected from prosecution. The UK is an accomplice to a government that believes violations should be kept secret so they can remain a “viable tool” in the “war on terrorism.”
Torture and rendition are not crimes the US government prosecutes fully because there may be circumstances where the US would like to barbarically wield these weapons to continue the fight against a “far-reaching network of individuals” that the government believes wishes to strike America any chance it gets. So, when members of the UK justice system move to grant victims due process or, for that matter, when officials from any allied country attempts to hold those involved in this barbarism accountable, they are coerced into submission. They are told they can give victims their day in open court, but if they do, they may not get information the US has on the next possible terror attack planned against the UK.