There is an extremely important article by Gareth Peirce in the London Review of Books. Gareth is our greatest human rights lawyer. She exposed some of the most famous human rights abuses in recent British history. In the film “In the Name of the Father”, Gareth was played by Emma Thompson. It was Gareth to whom I turned when the government was attempting to destroy me with false allegations. She advised me, as she very often does, pro bono. She manages at the same time to be one of our most famous lawyers, and one of our poorest.
At one stage, when the goon squad were entering and turning over my flat to try and put the frighteners on me, Gareth and her husband invited me to live with them for a while. I declined and toughed it out, but I tell the story as an example of her kindness and devotion to the cause of human rights.
I have been fighting New Labour’s use of torture more or less full time for five years now. This is the best and most important analysis I have read in that time. Anybody with the tiniest interest in British politics should read it.
Frankly, that will not happen. It will fall victim to the very stifling of debate and information which it analyses so brilliantly.
Here are some key extracts:
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been unprecedented worldwide monitoring of man’s propensity to torture, and yet its use has not abated but appears to be thriving. How has this come about? Monitoring of torture depends on two strategies: exposing it to public censure through careful documentation, and holding state agents responsible for torture conducted on their watch. The first has encouraged torturers to adopt techniques that are less visible and hence harder to document. The second has encouraged politicians to seek acceptance of their methods from a public that condemns those who are soft on terrorism. In this country, in fact, the government hardly needs such acceptance, because of the additional and crucial factor that the public is unlikely to be given sufficient information to trigger its revulsion. (My emphasis).
Whether we will in this country ever properly know the extent of British participation in criminal acts of the utmost seriousness should be a burning issue. We should not take for granted that court cases or a judicial inquiry will tell us what we need to know about the complicity of our government in crimes against humanity. The Baha Mousa inquiry into the activities of the British military in Iraq will not touch on the interaction of the British state with the US or the intelligence services, or with any torturing foreign state. Instead, the government will claim, as it does with ever greater frequency, that any issue relating to the intelligence services, or to the conduct of diplomatic relationships, should be confined entirely to special courts, or the evidence heard in large part in secret. The use of these procedures expands daily.
…Once we have arrived at a position where acquiescence in crimes against humanity by our government may well have occurred, the state can no longer demand that we acknowledge it as our protector and assert that in consequence the nation’s security is at stake if secrets are revealed. This after all is the thesis on which the claim for secrecy is built. For years the government has sidestepped report after report on these issues by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Justice and Liberty, and has considered the interventions of those organisations as interventions of which they need take no note whatsoever. And for the past seven years the United Kingdom has also shown disturbing indifference to the criticism of international organisations. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture conducted repeated checks on those interned indefinitely without trial between December 2001 and March 2005. Their observation that those being detained on secret evidence were being driven to madness were ignored; so too was the stinging critique of the European Commissioner for Human Rights. The government carried on with the detentions to the bitter end, months after the House of Lords had declared the legislation to be in violation of the fundamental provisions of the Human Rights Act. Similarly, the concerns the special rapporteur expressed in his report this year appear to have remained unread. Is arrogance the reason that criticisms can never correctly apply to the UK? Are they only for others?
…Staggeringly, not only do we therefore know nothing of what the intelligence services have actually witnessed in Afghanistan, but in each of the committee’s inquiries into their involvement or otherwise in torture, the government’s witnesses and the committee in turn appeared to miss entirely the wider legal and moral point. Instead, they focused on individual errors of judgment, even though members of the intelligence services were present during unlawful transfer and confinement: that is, in situations comprehensively meeting the definition of internationally prohibited crimes against humanity.
Equally disturbingly is that later in 2002, some months after MI6 sent its advice, the recently arrived British ambassador to Uzbekistan inquired urgently of the Foreign Office what its legal justification was for receiving information from Islamic dissidents who had been boiled alive to produce it. Craig Murray records his astonishment on being recalled to London to be told that the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, had decided that in the ‘War on Terror’ we should, as a matter of policy, use intelligence obtained through torture by foreign intelligence services. A follow-up memo from a Foreign Office legal adviser in March 2003 explained that it was not an offence to do so. How sound was this advice legally? Morally, there is no question. But what of the encouragement to torture resulting from our enthusiastic receipt of information?
There have been no resignations over any of this. The government on whose watch it has occurred may be vulnerable for other reasons, but at present it seems not for possible complicity in grave crimes. From where does it derive its confidence? Control of information is a powerful tool: the answer must undoubtedly lie in the extent to which the secret state believes it has consolidated and can control any mechanism that might allow discovery and challenge, so that it can rely on its citizens never knowing properly, or often at all.
It is horrible for me to read this against the background of my own despair at the virtual media blackout of my evidence last week to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. I thought that my evidence of ministerial collusion in torture was so shocking that the mainstream media would have to carry it. I realise reading Gareth that even now I am still naive. I also understand better now the Committee’s extraordinary dispassion.