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Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner’s Memories Provide A Reminder That We Need Accountability – OpEd

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How short memories are in this goldfish world of ours. Less than a month ago, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued two reports, one on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001–2010’ and the other on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.’

On Facebook, I commended Dominic Grieve MP for his stewardship of the ISC, and for having spent years trying to uncover the truth about Britain’s involvement in post-9/11 rendition and torture, inspired, I have no doubt, by the US’s demonstration of checks and balances in its own political system, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,200-page report, of which the 528-page executive summary was issued in December 2014, providing a permanent reminder that, in contrast, the UK tends to prefer an all-encompassing blanket of “official secrecy” regarding its own wrong-doing.

I wrote of the ISC’s reports, “This is compelling stuff, and a testament to Grieve’s determination to go beyond previous whitewashes, but what is clearly needed now is an official judge-led inquiry which will leave no stone unturned — and no senior ex-officials (up to and including Tony Blair and Jack Straw) unquestioned. Grieve noted that the committee was ‘denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister’ (Theresa May) and so ‘reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end.’”

I was away for a week just after the reports were issued, and so had no time to write any more about them, but the Guardian’s main article, which I linked to, provided a good summary — an unsurprising outcome, given that the co-author of the article was Ian Cobain, the mainstream media’s most tenacious investigator of British torture since 9/11. Cobain also produced a list of key findings, as follows:

  • On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
  • On 198 occasions, UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner they knew was being mistreated.
  • In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
  • MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
  • The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
  • They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
  • Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others. Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
  • In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
  • MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantánamo.
  • No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
  • The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  • On at least two occasions ministers made “inappropriate” decisions.
  • Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004.
  • A further Scotland Yard investigation must be considered.

Even before the reports were published, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, led by Ken Clarke, had called for what the Guardian described as “a judge-led inquiry into the UK’s role in human rights abuses since September 11 [2001],” denouncing what they called “Britain’s disgraceful involvement in rendition and torture”, and explaining that “this was the only way to establish the truth about who was responsible for abuses.”

These calls for a judge-led inquiry only increased after the reports were issued, prompting Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan to tell MPs on July 2 that the government would “give ‘careful consideration’ to calls for a renewed judge-led inquiry,” following up on an earlier inquiry, launched in 2010, that had fizzled out when NGOs refused to take part in it because of its profound limitations. Duncan added that the government “would give its decision on a judicial inquiry within 60 days.”

This took place while I was still away, and just a few days later, on US Independence Day, I was glad to see that ten former Guantánamo prisoners — Moazzam Begg, Shaker Aamer, Asif Iqbal, Jamil El-Banna, Ruhal Ahmed, Bisher al-Rawi, Binyam Mohamed, Shafiq Rasul, Omar Deghayes and Tarek Dergoul — had a letter published in the Guardian in which they wrote, “We, the former British nationals and residents who were imprisoned by the US government at secret prisons in Kandahar, Bagram and Guantánamo, call on the British government to order a comprehensive and transparent judge-led public inquiry into the perpetrators of this abuse, and the individuals who ordered it.”

As they proceeded to explain:

Despite its limitations, the report confirms everything we have been saying over the course of almost two decades: that British intelligence services were wilfully complicit in our kidnap, false imprisonment, torture and other mistreatment.

The statistics revealed in the ISC report have astounded even us but we know that this is the tip of the iceberg.

We are, however, painfully aware that reports and inquiries of the government by the government into its own abuses have not resulted in justice. For example, the US Senate published a report in 2014 that admitted CIA agents had extraordinarily renditioned and tortured 119 prisoners during the course of the “war on terror”. Despite admitting these war crimes, no prosecutions against the perpetrators have ever taken place.

On the contrary, since then the US has elected a president who believes that “torture works” and who has appointed someone who ran a torture facility to head the CIA, despite reports alleging she ordered the destruction of evidence documenting torture. He has also signed an executive order to keep Guantánamo open. Therefore, there must be meaningful accountability in the very highest corridors of power to ensure that such crimes never recur.

Between us, we have spent close to 90 years imprisoned without charge or trial. We have endured cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. However, we really do want to put this episode behind us.

We were pleased to learn about the prime minister’s recent apology given to Libyan torture survivors Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar [who had been rendered to torture in Libya with British support]. It is now time that we, citizens and residents of this country, also receive a long overdue apology and see the perpetrators of our abuse brought to account.

That was three weeks ago, and since then a silence has descended, which can only encourage a kind of amnesia, and so I was surprised and delighted on Friday when the Metro, London’s Daily Mail-produced free newspaper, published an article by former Guantánamo prisoner Younus Chekkouri, a Moroccan citizen who was finally released from Guantánamo in 2015, and whose story I had followed for many years, as he was a transparently peace-loving individual who, nevertheless, had been absurdly regarded as a terrorist for years before the authorities realized that they had been profoundly mistaken.

As well as recalling his abuse at the hands of his US captors, Chekkouri also wrote about how British agents interrogated him in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo — a vivid reminder of how the British (and, it should be mentioned in passing, many other countries) willingly engaged in interrogations in the “war on terror,” even though it was obvious that the context in which those interrogations took place was dangerously lawless, and, as well as abusing their own citizens and residents, also queued up to interrogate the citizens of other countries who had no obvious connection to their countries whatsoever.

I’m cross-posting Younus Chekkouri’s article below, and I hope it provides a timely reminder of British and American complicity in torture and abuse — and, in addition, how some victims of that torture and abuse — like Abu Zubaydah, for example — are still held at Guantánamo, a place founded on torture for which there is no justification whatsoever for its ongoing existence.

After 13 years in Guantánamo, tortured for a crime I didn’t commit, I will never be free from suffering

By Younus Chekkouri, Metro, Friday 20 Jul 2018

I knew many torturers in the 13 years the US held me prisoner. There was Ana – at least that is what she called herself – the American interrogator at Guantánamo who often threatened to have me hanged.

I still see her in my nightmares.

Then there were the camp’s guards, who beat me with their shoes, and laughed when I asked for looser clothing because the pain was so great. They said they would give it to me if I confessed to being a member of Al Qaeda, but I could not, because I know nothing of terrorism.

My ex-wife and I were in Afghanistan from Morocco, looking for work with a foreign aid organisation, when US forces invaded in 2002.

We fled the war into Pakistan, where we were captured by local security forces, accused of being foreign fighters, and sold to the US military for a $5,000 (£3,800) bounty. I later came to understand that this happened to hundreds of other unfortunate men.

I will never forget my first torturers – who can forget the first time?

The Americans placed a bag over my head and beat me mercilessly, again and again. An Afghan guard in their employ put a pistol to my head and threatened to pull the trigger. This was at Kandahar, in an airport that had been turned into a prison camp.

Not all of my tormentors were American, though.

One night, after about two months at the prison, I was woken in the middle of the night. The guards handcuffed me, dragged me from my cell, and began punching me, in my face and all over my body.

By the time I reached the interrogation room my clothes were torn and I was shaking, with fear and anger.

The two men waiting for me there were dressed in civilian clothes. They spoke in Egyptian Arabic dialect, fluently. They threatened to send me back to Morocco to be tortured. When I tried to explain there had been a terrible mistake, they mocked me. ‘Ya salam,’ one of them kept saying, sarcastically. ‘Oh really?’

I suspect they were British because they showed me pictures of Moroccans and other North Africans living in Britain. There were hundreds of pictures, of men and women, and endless questions – about the British citizens held prisoner at the camp, and about places I had never been and people I had never met. After that night, they interrogated me twice more before I was flown to Guantánamo.

Now I read that the British parliament has published a report, documenting what I and many other victims of the US’s torture and rendition programme know to be true: that British spies witnessed prisoners being tortured, submitted questions when they knew ‘enhanced interrogation’ meant torture, and received intelligence resulting from torture.

I find this easy to believe, because I experienced it myself. I was interrogated twice more by British agents, at Guantánamo. What I find hard to believe is that a country founded on the rule of law, a country that likes to claim moral leadership, can tolerate not knowing what abuses were committed in its name.

Am I in the report? It is incomplete, and cloaked in code words, so there is no sure way of telling. But I know my torture and interrogation really happened.

They are the stuff of nightmares now, but the pain and fear and humiliation were real.

Three years ago, the Americans released me from Guantánamo.

They never charged me with a crime, never apologised, never even tried to explain how I ended up there. They just washed their hands of me.

Now, although I am a free man, I often can’t sleep, I take anxiety pills every day, and my body aches, reminding me of the beatings.

I will never be free of suffering.

Slowly, I am rebuilding my life in Morocco. I won my legal case, remarried and have a baby daughter.

But I still see Ana’s face, and still hear that mocking voice, taunting me, with very British sarcasm: ‘Ya salam.’


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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.

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