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9118Britain War Crimes: Airline pilot cleared of role in 9/11 after 'nine years of hell'

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 1, 2010
      Airline pilot cleared of role in 9/11 after 'nine years of hell'
      Lotfi Raissi eligible for up to £2m compensation after wrongful imprisonment and damage to health
      Karen McVeigh and Paul Lewis
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 April 2010 19.20 BST


      The pilot falsely accused of training the hijackers responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks has won his almost decade-long miscarriage of justice battle.

      Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian living in Britain who lost his career as an airline pilot, suffered wrongful imprisonment and damage to his health, will now be eligible for up to £2m compensation.

      Raissi became the first person to be accused of participating in the 2001 attack in New York and Washington. He was held for five months in Belmarsh high security prison in London and told he would be charged with conspiracy and murder in the US where he could face the death penalty.

      Today he described the last nine years as "hell" but said he was delighted with the decision by Jack Straw, the justice secretary. "I have suffered such a great injustice, I'm grateful for this verdict. They took almost 10 years of my life and now I'm starting to breathe again."

      He added: "I've been exonerated, not just by a court, but by the British government. Now I can turn the page, but I can never forgive them for what they did."

      Raissi's solicitor, Jules Carey, said: "The ministry of justice has formally notified me that the justice secretary has found that Mr Raissi is 'completely exonerated' of the allegations of terrorism. The allegations of terrorism were utterly ruinous to him both personally and professionally."

      Carey said the decision to compensate Raissi on the grounds of "exoneration" rather than "serious default" by a public authority was "extremely unfortunate" as it meant that mistakes made by the CPS and the Metropolitan police in the case, identified by the court of appeal in 2008, would now not be investigated.

      James Welch, legal director at human rights charity Liberty, said: "The shabby treatment of this innocent man is a chilling reminder of why we all need the protection of the courts."

      Raissi's arrest, at his home in Colnbrook, Berkshire, 10 days after the 9/11 attacks, followed an extradition request from the FBI. In court, where he awaited extradition to the US on a holding charge, he was described by British lawyers representing the US as one of the lead instructors of the four hijackers.

      A judge threw the case out in 2002 and said there was no evidence against him. Since then, Raissi has sought an apology. In 2008, in a judgment that exonerated him, three court of appeal judges condemned the Met and the CPS for abusing the court process, presenting false allegations and not disclosing evidence.

      Today, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "After careful consideration of all the relevant material available to him, the justice secretary, Jack Straw, has notified Mr Raissi that he is eligible for compensation."

      The criminal case of Usman Saddique

      The pre-charge detention limit is irrelevant when the police are convinced they've got their man


      Following the ignominy of a resounding defeat for the government in the House of Lords in October 2008, many believed that the spectre of 42 days as a maximum period for pre-charge detention had finally been laid to rest. That expectation was short-lived.

      No sooner had the vexed proposal been withdrawn than the alternative was unveiled: a hastily drafted counter-terrorism (temporary provisions) bill "ready to be used as and when the need arises" according to the then home secretary. This would permit the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to seek a judge's blessing to hold a terrorism suspect for questioning for (yes, you guessed it) up to a maximum of 42 days.

      Whether the current DPP, who has an unassailable track record as a sentinel of human rights, would ever indulge such a request from the police has yet to be tested. But as someone who, like his predecessor, believes firmly that evidence not expedience should be the only driver for any further erosion to the liberties of our citizens, Keir Starmer should take note of the case of Usman Saddique, who was recently cleared of terrorism charges arising out of the airline bomb plot.

      On 9 August 2006, Saddique set off in his car shortly after leaving his family home in Walthamstow. Within minutes his vehicle was stopped by the police who then smashed his window and dragged him out. He was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism. The arrestee, then 24 years old, London born and of unblemished character, responded to the caution with the words "You gotta be joking". Unfortunately for him, they were not. He was just one of 24 young men picked up as part of a huge police operation into the conspiracy to blow up transatlantic passenger aircraft.

      Just a fortnight earlier, the law had been changed to permit pre-charge detention for up to four weeks. Using the new powers afforded to them, the investigators took the opportunity to interview Saddique on no less than 29 separate occasions between 11 August and 5 September. He was drip fed a limited amount of disclosure and on his solicitor's advice exercised his right not to answer questions. Notwithstanding that, he provided the police with eight prepared written statements through which he strongly denied any knowledge of a terrorist plot, still less any involvement in one.

      On 6 September, the last day that they could lawfully detain him without having to make a decision as to whether he should be prosecuted or not, the police charged Saddique with committing acts preparatory to terrorism pursuant to section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006. Yet of his 28 days in custody, there had been 13 days on which his interrogators had asked him precisely nothing; and such inactivity encompassed two spells during which there were at least five consecutive days of silence.

      In the course of searches of his family's residence, the police recovered some radical Islamic literature and a poem in which Saddique had expressed anger at the west for the plight of innocent Muslims elsewhere in the world. And when the investigators checked two mobile phones he had previously used, they identified the numbers of five of the men implicated in the airlines conspiracy among the several hundred other contacts he had stored.

      In one of his prepared statements, Saddique accepted that he knew these others and at trial it was common ground that he had been in occasional phone contact with them; hardly surprising as they were all known to each other from the local neighbourhood and school. At the same time the police knew there was nothing in the extensive surveillance evidence to suggest that he had consorted with them while these others had been engaged in plotting terrorism. Nor did the prosecution seek to suggest that any of the telephone conversations between Saddique and these others was anything other than social in nature.

      But in the end, the high-water mark of the police case against him was the finding of a single incriminating CD in the loft bedroom of his family home. It had been discovered on open display sitting on a busy desk among a number of other similar discs. It was unencrypted and its contents were instantly viewable on any computer. Yet, although it had taken the police less than 15 hours to seize it, it would be another 653 hours before the investigators felt they had sufficient evidence to charge Saddique with the possession of it for terrorist purposes.

      The CD appeared to be American in origin and was overwhelmingly concerned with computer and software security; essentially it was a hacker's manual. The prosecution did not suggest that such information had anything to do with a terrorist plot. However, a small folder on the CD titled "anarchy" contained 17 subfolders, one of which was called "bombs". This in turn contained four files that gave details on how to make explosive devices. The bombs sub-folder constituted less than 1% of the total material stored on the CD but it was enough to keep the prosecution's case on the rails until the matter finally came before a jury some nearly three and a half years after Saddique's arrest.

      The first nine months of that long wait had been spent locked in a cell at Belmarsh, having twice been refused bail. For the remaining 32 months he found himself on bail but subject to a 24-hour curfew and obliged to wear an electronic tag. The curfew order contained tightly drawn exceptions allowing him to leave his home, but only between set hours, for limited purposes and required him to stay within defined geographical zones. He was forbidden from using the internet. Indeed, his day-to-day existence could not have been more severely restricted had he been the subject of a full blown control order.

      The evidence in the trial occupied a mere two days. The defence accepted that Usman Saddique occasionally slept in the loft bedroom, but equally the prosecution conceded that not all of the property found in that room belonged to him. They also had to admit that there was no fingerprint or DNA evidence to suggest he had ever touched the CD. In fact, their computer expert found no evidence that the CD had even been played on any of the computers at the family home.

      In short, the evidence that Saddique had at any point been in possession of the CD or was ever aware of its contents was so tenuous that the trial judge rightly concluded that the case should be withdrawn from the jury.

      Accordingly, on 2 February 2010, Saddique was formally acquitted and left court with his good character preserved but with his confidence in the executive more than a little bruised. And, unlike the two controlees who last month won the right to sue the government for damages, he can expect to receive no compensation for his trouble.

      When he looks back on those first 28 days in custody, his sense of injustice will hardly be abated by the knowledge that three of the key conspirators in the plots to blow up transatlantic aircraft or to murder persons unknown were charged within just 12 days of their arrests. A further three defendants also convicted of an offence (conspiracy to commit public nuisance) significantly more serious than that levelled against him were charged within a fortnight.

      In light of this curiosity, should Keir Starmer ever hear the refrain that a month just isn't long enough, perhaps it is he who might wish to invite the police along to answer a few simple questions.

      Top judge: Binyam Mohamed case shows MI5 to be devious, dishonest and complicit in torture

      Legal defeat plunges Security Service into crisis over torture evidence, and it is revealed that judge removed damning verdict after Foreign Office QC's plea

      Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Cobain
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 February 2010 21.40 GMT


      MI5 faced an unprecedented and damaging crisis tonight after one of the country's most senior judges found that the Security Service had failed to respect human rights, deliberately misled parliament, and had a "culture of suppression" that undermined government assurances about its conduct.

      The condemnation, by Lord Neuberger, the master of the rolls, was drafted shortly before the foreign secretary, David Miliband, lost his long legal battle to suppress a seven-paragraph court document showing that MI5 officers were involved in the ill-treatment of a British resident, Binyam Mohamed.

      Amid mounting calls for an independent inquiry into the affair, three of the country's most senior judges – Lord Judge, the lord chief justice, Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Lord Neuberger – disclosed evidence of MI5's complicity in Mohamed's torture and unlawful interrogation by the US.

      So severe were Neuberger's criticisms of MI5 that the government's leading lawyer in the case, Jonathan Sumption QC, privately wrote to the court asking him to reconsider his draft judgment before it was handed down.

      The judges agreed but Sumption's letter, which refers to Neuberger's original comments, was made public after lawyers for Mohamed and media organisations, including the Guardian, intervened.

      They argued that Neuberger had privately agreed with Sumption to remove his fierce criticisms without giving then the chance to contest the move.

      In his letter, Sumption warned the judges that the criticism of MI5 would be seen by the public as statements by the court that the agency:

      • Did not respect human rights.

      • Had not renounced participation in "coercive interrogation" techniques.

      • Deliberately misled MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee, who are supposed to scrutinise its work.

      • Had a "culture of suppression" in its dealings with Miliband and the court.

      Sumption described Neuberger's observations in his draft judgment as "an exceptionally damaging criticism of the good faith of the Security Service as a whole".

      His letter also refers to the MI5 officer known as Witness B, who is understood to have interrogated Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002. Witness B gave evidence in the hearings and is now at the centre of a Scotland Yard investigation. Sumption's letter implies that Neuberger did not believe that Witness B was acting alone and that the judge believed that Witness B's conduct was "characteristic of the service as a whole".

      The court's final ruling forced the Foreign Office to publish a seven-paragraph summary of 42 classified CIA documents that were handed to MI5 before Witness B travelled to Pakistan to interrogate Mohamed. These show that MI5 was aware that Mohamed was being continuously deprived of sleep, threatened with rendition and subjected to previous interrogations that were causing him "significant mental stress and suffering". If administered in the UK, the summary says, it would clearly be in breach of undertakings about interrogation techniques made by the British government in 1972.

      The three judges referred to a recent case in a US court where the judge found Mohamed's claims about how he was tortured to be truthful. This vindicated his assertion that "UK authorities had been involved in and facilitated the ill-treatment and torture to which he was subjected while under the control of the USA authorities".

      There were renewed calls tonightfor an inquiry into MI5's involvement in torture overseas and into government policies after the 9/11 attacks.

      Miliband told MPs that the ruling was leading to a "great deal of concern" in the US. In a statement to the Commons he said he had fought to prevent the release of the information to defend the "fundamental" principle that intelligence shared with the UK would be protected.

      The Foreign Office claimed tonightthat the criticisms in the draft judgment had been "unsubstantiated", and denied that Sumption's approach to the court had been intended to suppress criticism of MI5. Nevertheless, the court is to convene tomorrow to reconsider whether to publish all or parts of the 21-line paragraph from the draft judgment in which the criticisms appear.

      The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, wrote to the court after the Sumption letter came to light on Monday night. He said today: "It is good news that – after a challenge from the Guardian and other news organisations – the courts have finally ordered the government to reveal evidence of MI5 complicity in torture. This is a watershed in open justice in an area in which it is notoriously difficult to shine a light. But it was extremely disturbing that the government's lawyers made a successful last-ditch attempt to get the master of the rolls to rewrite his judgment."

      Clare Short: Blair misled us and took UK into an illegal war
      Former minister says government was a 'lunatic asylum' in runup to attack with Gordon Brown also 'unhappy and marginalised'

      Richard Norton-Taylor
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 February 2010 19.52 GMT


      Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, his attorney general, misled parliament and the cabinet before Britain, to its "eternal shame", joined the US-led invasion of Iraq, Clare Short told the Chilcot inquiry today.

      During nearly three hours of testimony, the then international development secretary, who resigned soon after the March 2003 invasion as a result of what she called broken promises, described the atmosphere within the government during the runup to war. It was chaotic and fraught, she said, adding: "We were in a bit of a lunatic asylum."

      Short described how she used to meet Gordon Brown in the weeks before the invasion. "I had various cups of coffee with Gordon," she said. "He was very unhappy and marginalised."

      She said Brown, then chancellor, told her: "Tony Blair is obsessed with his legacy and he thinks he can have a quick war and then a reshuffle."

      But as war was getting closer, "Gordon was back in with Tony," she said. She said the two men together blamed the French for the failure to get a new UN resolution.

      "In my view that was a lie, a deliberate lie," she said, referring to claims that President Jacques Chirac said France would veto a fresh UN resolution in any circumstances. "Blame the French, concoct the legal authority and off we go," she said. "The British government's capacity to think better than that is thrown away, to our eternal shame."

      Referring to Blair's suggestion to the inquiry last week that the cabinet had an opportunity to ask questions about Goldsmith's legal advice, she said: "That is not true."

      She said she had been unaware of Goldsmith's "doubts and his changes of opinion" over the legality of the war. "I think he misled the cabinet," Short said. "He certainly misled me, but people let it through … I think for the attorney general to come and say there's unequivocal legal authority to go war was misleading."

      The role of the attorney general is "completely unsafe", she told the inquiry later. "Poor old Peter Goldsmith," she said, pointing out that he had been a commercial lawyer. "He didn't tell us the truth … but he was in a very difficult position.

      "There was a lot of misleading parliament by the prime minister of the day … I'm not saying he was insincere. I think he was willing to be deceitful about it because he thought it was right."

      Short referred to the "secretiveness and deception" as Blair and his "mates" closed down normal communications. "I was conned," she said, describing Blair's assurances to her that he would persuade George Bush to publish a road map towards a Middle East peace settlement and press for a Palestinian state by 2005.

      "I don't think we influenced anything," Short added, referring to the US. "We ended up humiliating ourselves [with] unconditional, poodle-like adoration."

      Documents declassified at the inquiry show that she wrote to Sir John Sawers, then Blair's foreign policy adviser – now head of MI6 – complaining that he had not included her department, DfID, in proposals to relax sanctions against Iraq in 2001. Sawers has told the inquiry that decisions about which departments should be involved were up to the Cabinet Office, not him.

      The documents show that Short warned Blair weeks before the invasion that the US was unprepared for running Iraq after the attack. On 14 February 2003 – St Valentine's Day, the inquiry panel noted – she wrote to Blair warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq. She said she had been told by MI6 that 15 February, the following day – the day of big anti-war marches and her birthday, she said – was one of the dates the US had in mind for the invasion.

      In evidence to the inquiry, military commanders, notably Lord Boyce, the then chief of the defence staff, have accused Short of not co-operating in pre-invasion planning and post-invasion reconstruction work because of her lack of support for military action. Yesterday she blamed the military for not standing up to Blair. "The military should have said: 'We're not ready.' There was no hurry," she said. It was the duty of military commanders under the Geneva conventions to ensure that they were ready to protect the civilian population of an occupied country.

      Short continued: "I think [Blair] was so frantic to be with America that all that was thrown away … Britain needs to think about this, the special relationship. What do we mean by it? Do we mean we have an independent relationship and we say what we think, or do we mean we just abjectly go wherever America goes and that puts us in the big league? That's a tragedy."

      Asked why she had not resigned earlier, she said: "If I knew then what I know now, I would have."

      She was clapped by the audience after finishing her testimony. The only other witness applauded has been Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, who resigned in protest against the invasion.

      Just for the record ...

      "On Saws" turned out to be Sir John Sawers, Jack Straw was the "furniture secretary" and at one point the entire investigation was the "Eric inquiry".

      But despite the occasional slip, the one area that has united Iraq inquiry observers has been praise for the official clerk, Catherine, and her editor, Pauline, who have provided live transcripts of the proceedings.

      It has not been an easy posting. Tony Blair's evidence alone, given in more than six hours of testimony on Friday, ran to 249 pages of transcript.

      Since the inquiry started on 24 November, Catherine has ordered or pleaded with some of the most influential people of the age to slow down or speak up.
      Parts of the first day's live transcript read: "I'm not sure I get quite as far as you do. [inaudible] [inaudible] military [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] nawd and this was a country." "Mandarinese" came out earlier as "man retain east".

      The former defence secretary John Hutton was, she said, "faster than the speed of light", and Clare Short repeatedly forgot requests to slow down. "I'm so sorry - just wave [if I'm speaking too fast]," Short said at one point.

      Catherine and Pauline received special thanks from the inquiry chair, Sir John Chilcot, in the last sitting before Christmas, but perhaps the richest prize of all so far came when they managed to get Alastair Campbell to say "Sorry".