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Britain War Crimes: Moazzam Begg: We settled so we could get our lives back

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  • Zafar Khan
    Moazzam Begg: We settled so we could get our lives back A former Guantanamo detainee says the Government will have to look into 29 similar cases in its inquiry
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2010
      Moazzam Begg: We settled so we could get our lives back
      A former Guantanamo detainee says the Government will have to look into 29 similar cases in its inquiry into torture
      Sunday, 21 November 2010


      Eid ul-Adha is the most important Muslim celebration of the year. It is a time when Muslims commemorate the great test undergone by the prophet Abraham when he was ordered by the Almighty to sacrifice his son. It is a time for joy and for spending quality time with the family. This year, it fell on Tuesday 16 November. It is inconceivable that politicians and journalists would be unaware of the significance of that date – the same day the Government announced that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with 16 former Guantanamo detainees, British residents, who were detained by US forces.

      In the morning, my daughter was in tears in front of press photographers. By the evening, Islamaphobic blogsites were posting statements such as: "Somebody post any of these innocent victims' addresses and I will save the British taxpayers millions."

      None of this mattered to the scores of reporters who incessantly called me, and others, from the moment news of the imminent government announcement was "leaked" to ITN News on Monday. Neither did it prevent numerous journalists with their cameras and satellite vans turning up outside my house, desperate for a scoop on where the taxpayers' money had been spent and to know if our voices – once so outspoken against the abuses we had sustained and which we alleged had happened with the complicity of our government – had now been silenced in return for a grubby pay-off.

      Of the 16 men involved in the case against the British secret intelligence services, five were held for two-and-a-half years; five served three years; four others served six years; one served eight, and another, Shaker Aamer, is still in Guantanamo, nine years on. Collectively, we have spent over 66 years imprisoned without charge or trial.

      Many of us allege that British intelligence was directly involved before and during our rendition. Others maintain they were tortured and abused in front of MI5 agents. All of us affirm that British agents regularly interrogated us, with full knowledge of the torture and conditions. Nine of the claimants in this case are British citizens; the others have long-term connections to the UK and in some cases had been legally resident here for decades.

      All of the men allege that they were forcibly stripped naked, paraded like animals in front of others, regularly beaten, kept for extended periods in isolation and held incommunicado for the duration. This is just a tiny sample of what some of the claimants are alleging. There is much more – so much more that the Government decided to settle with us rather than see its reputation as an upholder of human rights tarnished even more.

      I spent three years in Bagram and Guantanamo. I was subjected to the sounds of a screaming woman whom I believed was my wife being tortured. I witnessed the beating to death of two prisoners, and spent two years in solitary confinement, before returning home to meet three-year-old son I had never seen before.

      According to the terms of the settlement, no claimant knows what the other has been offered, and we are certainly not permitted to discuss it. But it would be safe to say none of us got even a fraction of the £6.5m awarded by the Canadian government to Maher Arar, who is the only comparable litigant. Despite the grand claims being made in the press, I'm no millionaire.

      We understand the aversion some people have to us receiving anything, but the Government was always going to lose this case. They had to settle, because, as with the two unjust and immoral wars in which untold numbers of innocent people have been killed, wounded and displaced, the Government subjugated itself to the policies of other countries.

      Earlier this month, the former US president George Bush released his memoir and defended waterboarding. He insisted that waterboarding of suspected terrorists by the CIA saved British lives by preventing terrorist attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf. He offered no credible evidence for his claim.

      In 2002, the CIA told me about the fate of a man they had interrogated before me, saying that I would meet the same end if I failed to comply. When Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured by the US, he was trumpeted as the most senior al-Qa'ida figure in custody at the time. He was then rendered to Egypt where he was waterboarded and made a confession that was used as a major justification to invade Iraq. Al-Libi told his US interrogators that he was working with Saddam Hussain on obtaining chemical and biological weapons. This information was presented by Colin Powell as "credible evidence" to the UN Security Council in 2003 as a tangible link between al-Qa'ida and the Iraqi regime. It was a fabrication – and, eventually, the UN knew it. There were no WMDs in Iraq and no al-Qa'ida presence there before the invasion.

      I told MI5 agents what I had been threatened with. They responded by saying that they could do nothing, and that I should just co-operate with the Americans. What would they have done if I had been waterboarded into giving such a confession? Waterboarding is a crime. The man who ordered this in our times was Britain's closest ally, even as we were being abused. I have no doubt that he – and his henchmen – ordered that, too. And I have even less doubt that the Government knew exactly what was happening, because British intelligence agents were there at every leg of the journey on the road to Guantanamo.

      We started this action not for the money, but to get our lives back, to repay our friends and relatives and to remove the stigma of being "terrorism suspects". Most of all, we wanted the last remaining British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, reunited with his family. That is why he is one of the claimants in absentia – and why we told the Government that having Shaker back was more important to us than any amount they were offering in settlement. We are pleased to see the Government has now agreed to step up its efforts to bring home the last Briton held at Guantanamo as a priority.

      We agreed to settle because we do not want to have to relive this episode indefinitely for years on end. To me, this is at least a partial victory. They would not have paid up if they thought they could win. British complicity in torture goes well beyond the Guantanamo cases. Cageprisoners intends to submit its findings of 29 such cases to the Gibson inquiry.

      Moazzam Begg is a former prisoner at Guantanamo and director of the human rights group Cage prisoners

      Guantanamo inmates set to receive payouts of up to £1m
      By Nigel Morris and Tom Peck
      Tuesday, 16 November 2010


      British former inmates of Guantanamo Bay are to set to receive large payments from the Government to drop claims that British secret agents knew they were being tortured.

      Ministers are expected to announce today that a settlement has been reached with at least seven men in a combined pay-off likely to run into millions of pounds. One of the former detainees could receive compensation worth around £1m, ITV News reported last night.

      They claimed that agents both from MI5 and MI6 were complicit in their degrading treatment by turning a blind eye to their "rendition" to the United States detention camp and to the torture of some of them. British officers have been accused of providing questions to be used in the interrogation of some of them.

      Allegations made by the former detainees include that some of them were subjected to the controversial practice of waterboarding. One claims to have lost the sight in one eye after it was rubbed with a rag soaked in pepper spray.

      The men in line for payments include Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al- Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga.

      They had been pursuing a court case which would have required the Government to surrender hundreds of thousands of confidential documents.

      It is understood that negotiations had been taking place between Government lawyers and the representatives of the Guantanamo claimants, with two QCs acting as independent arbiters. David Cameron, who told the Commons in July of his frustration that the security services were "paralysed by paperwork" as they prepared for court cases, sanctioned the payments.

      Exact details of how much the men receive are unlikely to be disclosed. Some are British citizens; the others resident after claiming asylum. The High Court has been notified that a settlement has been reached.

      Downing Street today confirmed that a Commons statement would be made on the subject. A spokesman had said last night that Mr Cameron was clear that "we need to deal with the totally unsatisfactory situation where for the past few years the reputation of our security services is overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the treatment of detainees held by other countries".

      When claims of MI5 collusion into the torture of one of the men, Binyam Mohamed, first became public, the then Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, now the Attorney General, called for a judicial inquiry into the allegations and for the matter to be referred to the police.

      Court papers revealed last year how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods employed were so extreme that, according to one court official, waterboarding was "very far down the list of things they did".

      Now ministers will hope that the payments will draw a line under an embarrassing controversy that has dogged the British Government for several years.

      But the move using taxpayers' money will generate huge controversy, provoking accusations that ministers had bought the men's silence.

      Iraqi prisoners were abused at 'UK's Abu Ghraib', court hears
      Detainees were starved, deprived of sleep and threatened with execution at JFIT facilities near Basra, high court told
      Ian Cobain
      The Guardian, Saturday 6 November 2010


      Evidence of the alleged systematic and brutal mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at a secret British military interrogation centre that is being described as "the UK's Abu Ghraib" emerged yesterday during high court proceedings brought by more than 200 former inmates.

      The court was told there was evidence that detainees were starved, deprived of sleep, subjected to sensory deprivation and threatened with execution at the shadowy facilities near Basra operated by the Joint Forces Interrogation Team, or JFIT.

      It also received allegations that JFIT's prisoners were beaten, forced to kneel in stressful positions for up to 30 hours at a time, and that some were subjected to electric shocks. Some of the prisoners say that they were subject to sexual humiliation by women soldiers, while others allege that they were held for days in cells as small as one metre square.

      Michael Fordham QC, for the former inmates, said the question needed to be asked: "Is this Britain's Abu Ghraib?"

      The evidence of abuse is emerging weeks after defence officials admitted that British soldiers and airmen are suspected of being responsible for the murder and manslaughter of a number of Iraqi civilians, in addition to the high-profile case of Baha Mousa, the hotel receptionist tortured to death by troops in September 2003. One man is alleged to have been kicked to death aboard an RAF helicopter, while two others died after being held for questioning.

      Last month the Guardian disclosed that for several years after the death of Mousa, the British military continued training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness, in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions. Trainee interrogators were told they should aim to provoke humiliation, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning.

      Lawyers representing the former JFIT inmates now argue there needs to be a public inquiry to establish the extent of the mistreatment, and to discover at which point ultimate responsibility lies, along the chain of military command and political oversight.

      Yesterday's hearing marked the start of a judicial review intended to force the establishment of an inquiry. Fordham said: "It needs to get at the truth of what happened in all these cases. It needs to deal with the systemic issues that arise out of them, and it needs to deal with the lessons to be learned."

      The Ministry of Defence is resisting such an inquiry, however. In a statement to the Commons on Monday, Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat armed forces minister, said the MoD should be allowed to investigate the matter itself, adding: "A costly public inquiry would be unable to investigate individual criminal behaviour or impose punishments. Any such inquiry would arguably therefore not be in the best interests of the individual complainants who have raised these allegations."

      Harvey said an inquiry would not be ruled out, "should serious and systemic issues" emerge as a result of the MoD's own investigations.

      Yesterday a senior MoD official said the department was committed to investigating the allegations as quickly as possible, and that a public inquiry was unnecessary and inappropriate. Brigadier John Donnelly of the MoD's Judicial Engagement Policy department said: "We have set up the dedicated Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate them as quickly and thoroughly as possible."

      He said the MoD's IHAT team was headed by "an independent former CID officer", and offered the most effective means of establishing the truth.

      Fordham told the court that an investigation by the MoD would not satisfy the UK's obligations under the European convention on human rights, and that it would amount to "the military investigating the military".

      Among the most startling evidence submitted to the high court in London yesterday were two videos showing the interrogation of a suspected insurgent who was taken prisoner in Basra in April 2007 and questioned about a mortar attack on a British base.

      The recordings – among 1,253 made by the interrogators themselves – show this man being forced to stand to attention while two soldiers scream abuse at him and threaten him with execution. They appear to ignore his complaints that he is not being allowed to sleep and that he has had nothing to eat or drink for two days.

      At the end of each session he is forced to don a pair of blackened goggles, ear muffs are placed over his head, and he is ordered to place the palms of his hands together so that a guard can grasp his thumbs to lead him away.

      At the end of one session, one of the interrogators can be heard ordering the guard to "rough the fucker off", or possibly "knock the fucker off". The guard then runs down a corridor, dragging the prisoner behind him by his thumbs. This man's lawyers say he was then severely beaten: they allege that the initial blows, and their client's moans, can be heard faintly at the end of the video.

      Before the start of the hearing, which is expected to last three days, Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing the former inmates, said: "It is nonsense to suggest, as the MoD does, it is a case of just a few bad apples. That is absolutely not the case. There are very serious allegations related to very troubling systemic abuse.

      "People at the highest level knew what was going on, it goes up to the very highest level and is not something that just happened after we went into Iraq.

      "They are not just allegations. I have no doubt a public inquiry can get to the bottom of this."

      In separate proceedings, around 250 Iraqis are bringing damages claims against the MoD, alleging assaults, serious sexual assaults and, in one case, homicide.

      An investigation by the army in January 2008, which examined six cases of alleged abuse by British troops, described them as cause for "professional humility", but concluded that such incidents were not "endemic". However, the report did not address the possibility that some mistreatment was systematic, with those responsible acting under orders and in accordance with a prewar training regime that called for repeated use of abusive techniques.

      The Equality and Human Rights Commission also joined yesterday's proceedings, saying it was "particularly disturbed" by some of the allegations.

      Expert view

      If the interrogation techniques on view in the video footage have been used routinely on detainees in Iraq, I would expect many of the survivors to suffer significant psychological harm. I know from years of working with people who have been subjected to this sort of treatment, especially over a sustained period, that it can lead to serious psychological disorders as a direct consequence.

      The resulting health problems can continue for many years and cause extensive disruption to the personal and family life of the victim.

      As we have witnessed at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and as specialist studies by organisations such as the Physicians for Human Rights have shown, recipients of prolonged aggressive, terrifying and threatening interrogations are at risk of developing conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

      The United Nations manual on the effective investigation and documentation of torture, known as the Istanbul Protocol, is widely accepted and used in British courts.

      This document lists commonly used methods of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including humiliation such as verbal abuse, deprivation of normal sensory stimuli such as light and sound, threats of death, poor conditions of detention including lack of food or water, accentuating feelings of helplessness and exposure to ambiguous situations or contradictory messages. All of these methods are either seen or referred to in this video.

      The disclosure of this information represents another important step towards getting to the truth of the activities of UK agents in Iraq. All allegations of torture and other ill-treatment should be fully investigated and anyone found to be responsible brought to justice.

      Dr Brian Fine, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
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