Nothing has changed. Under the Lib/Con coalition, MI6 continue to receive intelligence obtained through torture abroad, and Lib Dem ministers will be seeing intelligence obtained from hellish torture chambers in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and numerous other capitals.
That was plain from yesterday’s speech by MI6 head John Sawers – despite the near unanimous complicity of the mainstream media in forwarding the smokescreen of anti-torture spin.
But it is a thin smokescreen indeed. These are Sawers’ key words:
“Suppose we received credible intelligence that might save lives, here or abroad. We have a professional and moral duty to act on it. We will normally want to share it with those who can save those lives.”
Sir John said the UK’s security service had a duty to ensure any partner service would respect human rights but admitted this was “not always straightforward”.
He said: “Yet if we hold back and don’t pass that intelligence, out of concern that a suspect terrorist may be badly treated, innocent lives may be lost that we could have saved.
“These are not abstract questions just for philosophy courses or searching editorials, they are real, constant operational dilemmas. Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely-balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves.”
Now parse that very carefully. It says we do receive intelligence from torture, and we know we do. It says this happens all the time – “real constant
operational dilemmas” – and that the decisions to receive intelligence from torture have specifically been approved by ministers. That means Lib Dem ministers are complicit in this policy.
As a former member of the FCO senior management structure I can tell you for certain that Sawers’ speech will have been cleared with William Hague and with Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem so-called human rights minister, who as I pointed out just yesterday made a speech on foreign policy to the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool devoid of any liberal sentiment and almost devoid of any reference to human rights.
The policy of obtaining – constantly, as John Sawers says – intelligence from torture abroad is precisely the same as that I protested about under New Labour, which protest led to the end of my career. Everything in the documents I have published is precisely consistent with the policy Sawers enumerates now.
The truth about torture is poor Mr Avazov, who was boiied alive (quite literally) in the Jaslyk torture chambers in Uzbekistan.
It is the old man I met who had his children tortured before his eyes until he admitted false family ties with al-Qaida. It is the woman raped with the broken bottle, It is the lady who lived opposite me whose father was blinded as a political prisoner, and who was held down while a truck was run over her legs. All of that and thousands more did not stop the government, despite my profound objections as Ambassador, from accepting intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers via the CIA.
John Sawers relies on the “ticking bomb” fallacy – the idea that torture happens to real terrorists and they give precise timely information to avert an imminent threat. That is a Hollywood scenario. There has never ever been a real life example that meets the ticking bomb cliche.
We encourage torture, we create a market for it, by accepting its fruits. The regimes who pass us this intelligence know we accept it, and they feel supported and reinforced in their abuse of human rights. Why would they take Western rhetoric seriously on human rights when they know we lap up the products of their torture chamber?
Remember the torturers are not altruists but agents of very nasty regimes. The information passed to us by those regimes is not for our good, but for the good of those regimes – and normally to convince us that the opponents of those regimes are all terrorists, whether true or not. In Uzbekistan, every bit of intelligence we could verify from the Embassy, eg on terrorist training camps in named locations in the hills, turned out to be untrue. Yet the intelligence services lapped up the Uzbek information because it greatly exaggerated the strength of al-Qaida in Central Asia, thus providing a spurious justification for our support of Central Asian dictators, whose help we wanted for our Afghan policy and for access to their hydrocarbons.
Torture does not get you the truth. It gets you what the torturer wants to hear. People will say anything, as their arm is held in boiling liquid, to make the pain stop. The regimes who do this do not hold truth as a high priority.
The torture material regularly received by the UK government is from countries where the vast, overwhelming majority of the people tortured are not terrorists at all but merely dissidents from abhorrent regimes. I speak from first hand knowledge.
Sawers sets up a number of Aunt Sallies. We do not torture ourselves or ask for people to be tortured. We do not hand people over to be tortured – but he omits to mention that the CIA, who share all intelligence with MI6, do. His speech is ridden with hypocrisy and should be deplored.
I was most happy to have had the chance to speak in the Lib Dem conference debate on UK complicity in torture. If Jeremy Browne had an honest bone in his pusillanimous body, given the policy he is following in office, he and other Lib Dem Minsters would have opposed the motion. Instead they are pursuing a directly opposite policy hidden behind precisely the same obfuscations used by New Labour.
I accuse Nick Clegg of complicity in torture. I am beginning to wonder whether the man has any connection to liberalism at all.