The true extent of the then British government’s involvement in the illegal abduction and torture of its own citizens after the al-Qaeda attacks of September 2001 has been spelled out in stark detail with the disclosure during high court proceedings of a mass of highly classified documents.
Previously secret papers that have been disclosed include a number implicating former British prime minister Tony Blair’s office in many of the events that are to be the subject of the judicial inquiry that the present British Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week.
Among the most damning documents are a series of interrogation reports from MI5 (British counter intelligence) officers that betray their disregard for the suffering of a British resident whom they were questioning at a US airbase in Afghanistan. The documents also show the officers were content to see the mistreatment continue.
One of the most startling documents is chapter 32 of MI6’s (British intelligence) general procedural manual, entitled Detainees and Detention Operations, which advises officers that among the “particular sensitivities” they need to consider before becoming directly involved in an operation to detain a terrorism suspect is the question of whether “detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation.”
Other documents show how:
• The UK Foreign Office (FO) decided in January 2002 that the transfer of British citizens from Afghanistan to Guantanamo was its “preferred option.”
• Former foreign minister Jack Straw asked for that rendition to be delayed until MI5 had been able to interrogate those citizens.
• Blair’s office was said to have overruled FO attempts to provide a British citizen detained in Zambia with consular support in an attempt to prevent his return to the UK, with the result that he too was “rendered” to Guantanamo.
The papers have been disclosed as a result of civil proceedings brought by six former Guantanamo inmates against MI5 and MI6, the British Home Office, the British Foreign Office, and the British Attorney General’s Office, which they allege were complicit in their illegal detention and torture.
The UK government has been responding to disclosure requests by maintaining that it has identified up to 500,000 documents that may be relevant, and says it has deployed 60 lawyers to scrutinize them.
It has failed to hand over many of the documents that the men’s lawyers have asked for, and last week failed to meet a deadline imposed by the high court for the disclosure of the secret interrogation policy that governed MI5 and MI6 officers between 2004 and earlier this year.
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