There is, on the face of it, another in a series of very good articles by Ian Cobain in The Guardian, on complicity by the British security services in torture abroad. Sixteen MI5 and MI6 personnel are under investigationby the Metropolitan Police for their involvement in torture.
The home secretary Jacqui Smith faces legal action over allegations that MI5 agents colluded in the torture of a British former civil servant by Bangladeshi intelligence officers.
Lawyers for the British man, Jamil Rahman, are to file a damages claim alleging that Smith was complicit in assault, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and breaches of human rights legislation over his alleged ill-treatment while detained in Bangladesh.
The claims bring to three the number of countries in which British intelligence agents have been accused of colluding in the torture of UK nationals. Rahman says that he was the victim of repeated beatings over a period of more than two years at the hands of Bangladeshi intelligence officers, and he claims that a pair of MI5 officers were blatantly involved in his ordeal.
The two men would leave the room where he was being interrogated whenever he refused to answer their questions, he says, and he would be severely beaten. They would then return to the room to resume the interrogation.
Last month I gave evidence to a parliamentary select committee that I had direct first hand experience as a British Ambassador that the UK had a policy, set by Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary, of obtaining torture from intelligence abroad.
I was summoned back to a meeting which was held in the FCO on 7 or 8 March 2003. Present were Linda Duffield, Director Wider Europe; Matthew Kydd, Head Permanent Under Secretary’s Department; Sir Michael Wood, Legal Adviser.
At the start of the meeting Linda Duffield told me that Sir Michael Jay, Permanent Under Secretary, wished me to know that my telegrams were unwise and that these sensitive questions were best not discussed on paper.
In the meeting, Sir Michael Wood told me that it was not illegal for us to obtain intelligence from torture, provided someone else did the torture. He added “I make no comment on the moral aspect” and appeared to me to be signalling disapproval.
Matthew Kydd told me that the Security Services considered the material from the CIA in Tashkent useful. He also argued that, as the final intelligence report issued by the security services excludes the name of the detainee interrogated, it is not possible to prove that torture was involved in any particular piece of intelligence.
Linda Duffield told me that Jack Straw had discussed this question with Sir Richard Dearlove and the policy was that, in the War on Terror, we should not question such intelligence.
…It was agreed that Sir Michael Wood’s view that it was not illegal to receive intelligence from torture would be put in writing. I attach a copy of his letter of 13 March 2003.
This meeting was minuted. I have seen the minute, which is classified Top Secret. On the top copy is a manuscript note giving Jack Straw’s views. It is entirely plain from this note that this torture policy was under his personal direction.
The New Labour chairman, Andrew Dismore, appeared not keen to include in his summary of my testimony the fact I had been directly instructed that this was a minsterially set policy, and I had both been told that Jack Straw had approved it and I had seen Straw’s own subsequent marginalia on the minutes of the meeting. All that had been clearly set out in my written memorandum of evidence to the committee, and I was determined not to let Dismore wriggle away from the fact that these MI5 officers were following ministerial policy: as in this passage.
Q77 Chairman: To summarise where we are, we were not directly involved in torturing anybody in Uzbekistan, but effectively there was a chain that ended up with you in Tashkent via the CIA and MI6 in London. It is not like the allegations we have received regarding Pakistan, for example, where basically we are in the prison cell asking the questions and somebody may have been tortured. This is a much more remote chain of circumstances. Your argument is that because Uzbekistan is a country where torture is almost a way of life in that country evidence was being obtained by the CIA indirectly from the Uzbeks and then supplied to MI6 and the sum totality must have been known to ministers. Although we were not directly involved through that chain that is sufficient in your view to create an allegation of complicity by the UK in torture in Uzbekistan?
Mr Murray: I would agree with that.
Q78 Chairman: That is a summary of your case?
Mr Murray: I would add one point. My case is that because as an ambassador I was fortunately a member of the senior civil service and I was arguing against this I was able to be given high-level policy direction and be told that ministers had decided we would get intelligence from torture. The fact that ministers made that decision was the background to what was happening in Pakistan, for example. It is not that MI5 operatives were acting independently; they were pursuing a policy framework set ministerially
Q79 Chairman: So, ministers specifically used the words “torture”, “evidence from the CIA” and “no questions: turn a blind eye”?
Mr Murray: Ministers certainly had before them and read my telegrams which said that this was torture and detailed the type of torture involved.
Q80 Chairman: What you just said was that ministers said it was okay to use torture?
Mr Murray: No; I think I said that ministers said it was okay to use intelligence from torture.
Q81 Chairman: Therefore, the inference is that it is not just turning a blind eye or “ask no questions, tell no lies”; it is specific knowledge?
Mr Murray: Nobody argued to me once that the Uzbek intelligence we were discussing did not come from torture; everyone accepted that it came from torture and the question was whether or not we accepted it. Nobody said that it was not actually torture.
You can watch my evidence here:
Now as Rahman is going to sue the British government over his torture, my evidence that MI5 were following ministerial policy could hardly be more relevant. But The Guardian doesn’t even mention it in this article. Yet the reporter Iain Cobain actually attended the Select Committee and sat taking notes through my whole evidence session.
Even though the Today programme thought it was worth four minutes on arguably Britain’s most influential broadcast news, Ian Cobain has not reported it or referred to it once. This despite the fact that I am sure you will agree if you look at the videos, it is pretty startling stuff, delivered in a punctiliously accurate manner as I could and backed by documentation.
Why can this be? One possibility is that Cobain just doesn’t believe me – as some of the Committee members were also obviously desperate to think up some reason not to believe me. But what I said was the truth, delivered in full knowledge that there are severe penalties for misleading a select committee. The telegrams I referred to exist in the FCO, and the minutes of the meetings I detail also exist in the FCO. If I were lying, the FCO could simply release the documents and prove it. And I do have some very key FCO documents which strongly support my account and which I gave to the committee.
I very much hope I may testify in Court under oath in the Rahman case, and perhaps the Court will order the minutes and telegrams to be produced by the FCO.
The other reason that The Guardian may be suppressing my evidence from their story – and I believe this is almost certainly the true reason – is that Jack Straw is the Minister who approved the use of torture material. Straw is as thick as thieves with Guardian Deputy Editor Michael White, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger and Guardian Media Group Chairman, also New Labour City Minister, Lord Myners. That lot are not going to finger their good mate Jack as a promoter of torture.
CP Scott has caused several minor earthquakes by the speed of his revolutions. Aside from cleaning up Parliament, when are we going to get these New Labour war criminals out of The Guardian?