When Binyam Mohamed al Habashi went to court in 2010 to hold MI5 accountable for collusion in his torture at the hands of the United States, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee said under oath: “[I am telling you] that our completely independent investigations don’t seem to confirm that the agencies are involved in any way in torture or complicity in torture.”
Al Habashi’s lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, pointed to several factual inconsistencies in the ISC testimony which he said were grounds to believe that the testimony was false. The court later ruled in Al Habashi’s favour and he was paid compensation for his pain, yet has not since received an apology.
In Shaker Aamer’s case, MI5 agents watched him being tortured, as did they with Moazzam Begg. In fact, CAGE has documented numerous cases where MI5 agents were either feeding torturers with questions for their victims, or actively participating in the horror.
Still, after all these years, the intelligence services have escaped accountability through failed investigations such as the Gibson Inquiry, which collapsed after lawyers, detainees and NGOs refused to participate in the process after it emerged that none of the claimants or their lawyers would be able to see or question the alleged perpetrators. In short, it was nothing more than a cover up.
This kind of outrageous manouvring on the part of the British government to protect its abusive security establishment is just one of the factors chipping away at the rule of law in Britain, and providing a dangerous example to the rest of the world.
A double hurt to the victims of abuse and torture
However, MI5’s impunity when it comes to their complicity in torture as illustrated by the many Guantanamo Bay cases, the Binyam Mohamed al Habashi case and the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar, is part and parcel of a wider culture of abuse and evasion of responsibility in the United Kingdom.
Not only is the security establishment adept at avoiding having to answer for possible torture of its own citizens, but they have also evaded questions around their complicity in covering up the abuse of children under care.
This week, an inquiry heard how MI5 had covered up how former Liberal MP Cyril Smith, now deceased, sexually abused boys at Cambridge House hostel and Knowl View residential school in Rochdale. In other words, MI5 covered up the torture of British children.
According to the Telegraph: “Files released by the intelligence agency show it was aware that the Director of Public prosecutions had lied to a newspaper over its decision not to prosecute Smith. But it decided not to make the information public because its duty was to ‘defend the realm’ rather than to expose a prominent politician accused of being a paedophile.”
Instead, Smith had been knighted in 1988, despite government being aware of claims that he had abused young boys through a series of sordid “medical examinations” in the 1970s.
The complicity of MI5 in this case is just the tip of the iceberg. Two years ago, a former captain in MI5, told Channel 4 news that MI5 had ordered him to “stop digging” when he reported suspicions of a Westminster paedophile ring consisting of “very powerful” individuals, molesting boys at the Kincora care home for boys in Belfast, Northern Ireland and trafficking some of them to Westminster.
The claims were investigated by Scotland Yard following allegations that a Conservative MP had murdered a young boy. MI5 again denied complicity in abuse despite one of the victims having come forward to the media at great cost to his personal dignity.
This duty to “defend the realm” at the cost of common morality shows the fault at the heart of this system, which is echoed by the many cases of torture still unanswered for under the ‘War on Terror’: MI5 worships at the altar of the state, and as such goes to great lengths to protect those who abuse others through its power.
During the enquiry into the Smith case, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) even managed to dodge accountability, stating: “The DPP cannot trace such a case being referred to us but cannot confirm or deny receiving it.” This is quite simply a nonsense statement.
Turning citizens into subjects, and treating the judiciary with disdain
In contrast, while powerful bodies and individuals are able to flout the law, citizens are turned into subjects by it. Invasive counter-terrorism legislation forces individuals stopped at airports to give up their passwords and enable the state to access every detail of their lives. Imagine for a moment, that MPs had to give up their personal details under such conditions.
This is quite simply an extreme imbalance of power. In seeking accountability for abuse, victims of torture (which includes especially children who have been molested) must undergo repeated trauma by reliving the abuse to police, members of the judiciary and sometimes the media.
Taking such a step requires huge courage. When that courage is met by repetitive dodging of responsibility through ridiculous, evasive statements and excuses, faulty inquiries and cover-ups, it is a double crime. For some it can understandably be too much to bear.
This kind of impunity results in a form of governance characterised by structural oppression and abuse of the vulnerable. It means we live in a society that has the façade of freedom and equality but is anything but this.
In the wake of the Al Habashi case, Dr Howells, representing the security establishment, was still unrepentant, attacking a senior judge who ruled that torture victim Binyam Mohamed should be paid compensation for his pain: “I don’t know what the Master of the Rolls is doing or playing at. He sometimes chooses to put some information in his reports and he says he sometimes doesn’t. The role of the judiciary is something that I can’t account for. That’s something they have to defend.”
The outrageous but apparently excusable notion that the judiciary should defend itself to the intelligence services gives a hint of the power imbalance that is tilting us into ever more dangerous waters in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.
It is also a symptom of a deeper malaise at the heart of society, where those that are charged with protecting us are in fact doing the exact opposite, using deception and lies, and they are getting away with it.
CC image courtesy of Ged Carrol on Flickr
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)