Muslims and the dirty war - updated November 2008
Gareth Peirce, the human rights solicitor associated with redressing miscarriages of justice such as the case of the Birmingham Six, has recently observed that "the most useful device of the executive is its ability to claim that secrecy is necessary for national security" (writing in the London Review of Books, 10th April 2008). The misuse of intelligence for political ends; attempts to trump international obligations; the useful idiots and other 'assets' who seem to escape prosecution till the timing is right - all serve as examples of forms of excesses that require urgent checking.
The Ricin case
On 5th January 2003, Met Police officers raided a flat in Wood Green, North London together with specialists from the biological and chemical research centre at Porton Down. They discovered a locked bag in room occupied by an Algerian failed asylum seeker Kamal Bourgass. The media was awash with headlines of a plot to poison London. The subsequent trial found no evidence of a ricin plot - but tellingly the timing was such that it served as a lynch-pin in the case Colin Powell presented to the UN in February 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq to the UN (media headlines included the Sun's "Poison factory yards from Osama pal's home"). The Porton Down labs established the absence of ricin in the flat within 48 hours - but then withheld the information for over three months! A convenient loss of evidence.
And what of the human price? Ten innocent men were locked up in Belmarsh under anti-terrorism laws that at the time allowed indefinite detention without trial of non-British nationals. They had no way of knowing what wrong they had done or when they would be brought to court. Once released, they were subsequently subject to the equally inhumane regime of 'control orders' - and many have yet to recover from mental illnesses. The collusion of agencies and the shocking abuse of power ought not to be forgotten easily. The air can only be cleared by an honest apology.
Links & references
The Ricin Dossier
Inventory of Arrests
Collusion in torture
"Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain in 1994, where he lived for seven years, sought political asylum and was given leave to remain while his case was resolved. While travelling in Pakistan, Binyam was arrested on a visa violation and turned over to the US authorities. When they refused to let him go, he asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him, 'The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.' Binyam refused to speak to them. British agents then confirmed his identity to the US authorities and he was warned that he would be taken to a Middle Eastern country for harsh treatment.
On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. Despite this, Binyam said that his lowest point came when his interrogators asked him questions about his life in London, which he realized could only have been provided by the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been betrayed by the country in which he had sought asylum. Binyam’s ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the ‘Dark Prison’ near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise....From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains."
Source: click here
In October 2008, The Guardian reported on a judgement by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones in the High Court in Britain: "it was clear Britain had 'facilitated' Mohamed's interrogation when he was unlawfully detained in Pakistan before he was secretly rendered to Morocco, Afghanistan, and then to Guantánamo....The judges said they were unaware of any precedent of such serious allegations against 'the government of a foreign friendly state and our oldest and closest ally' as those made in this case."
Source: click here
Following the High Court ruling, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was compelled to ask the attorney general to investigate possible 'criminal wrongdoing' by the MI5 and the CIA over its treatment of a British resident held in Guantánamo Bay. The report in The Guardian, 28th October 2008 notes, "The dramatic development over allegations of collusion in torture and inhuman treatment follows a high court judgment which found that an MI5 officer participated in the unlawful interrogation of Binyam Mohamed. The MI5 officer interrogated Mohamed while he was being held in Pakistan in 2002. It emerged tonight that lawyers acting for Smith have sent the attorney general, Baroness Scotland, evidence about MI5 and CIA involvement in the case, which was heard behind closed doors in high court hearings...The evidence was suppressed following gagging orders demanded by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and the US authorities. The action by Smith, the minister responsible for MI5 activities, is believed to be unprecedented."
The question now being asked is that given MI5's participation in torture overseas, would it be a great surprise if torture practices are one-day uncovered in British prisons? After all, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce recently wrote an article entitled, 'Britain's own Guantanamo' and she had this to say some years ago "We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it. I know I am representing innocent people; innocent people who know that a jury they face will inevitably be predisposed to find them guilty" [speaking at the Muslim News Awards Ceremony, March 2004].
It is also known that "U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men -- or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report." If the US authorities can have some dirty work done by Chinese security on Uighar detaines, then the precedent has been set.
Source: click here, Home Secretary Ruling
Gareth Peirce, Muslim News Awards 2004
Gareth Peirce, 'Britain's own Guantanamo', December 2007
Chinese interrogators in Guantanamo, May 2008
Gareth Peirce notes, "Moazzem Begg, who was living with his wife and children in Pakistan, was kidnapped in January 2002; within hours he was in the hands of Americans (with a British Intelligence agent to hand), and transported without any semblance of legality to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, by this time an interrogation camp where torture was practiced. After a year during which he witnessed the murders of two fellow detainees, he was moved to Guantánamo Bay. Until he finally returned to this country in 2005, nothing was known of the presence at his abduction of a British agent. Instead, for the whole of that year in Bagram, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office repeatedly told his father that they had no information about Begg and that the Americans would tell them nothing.
Seemingly unrelated areas of injustice, we now learn, have all along been connected. Two British residents, acknowledged to have been seized in 2002 in the Gambia and subjected to rendition by the US as a direct result of information provided by British Intelligence, were for the next five years subjected to interrogation (including torture) primarily to obtain information about a man interned in this country. One of those interned in December 2001, a Palestinian, trying to guess the reason for his detention the next year, told his lawyers that he had raised money for many years to build wells and schools and to provide food in Afghanistan. One of those wells, he said, bore the name of the son of its donor, Moazzem Begg. The Palestinian's lawyers, knowing by now that Begg was in Guantánamo, started to think the unthinkable. During hearings at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, at which these cases are heard, there is a brief opportunity for the detainee's lawyer to question an anonymous Security Service witness concealed behind a curtain, before the lawyer is asked to leave the court so it can continue its consideration of secret evidence. The witness was asked: 'Would you use evidence that was obtained by torture?' The unhesitating answer was: 'Yes.' The only issue that might arise, the agent added, would be the weight such evidence should be given. Three years after this, in December 2005, the House of Lords affirmed the principle that no English court can ever admit evidence derived from torture, no matter how strong the claimed justification or emergency. The message for the government was again unequivocal: the principles of legal obligation must be adhered to in all circumstances. Despite the strength and intended permanence of these two rulings by the House of Lords, however, many Muslims have come to see any protection from the courts as constituting only a temporary impediment before the government starts to implement a new method of avoidance". (Gareth Peirce writing in the London Review of Books, 10th April 2008)
Links & references
Yahya Birt's review of 'Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantánamo and Back' by Moazzam Begg with Victoria Brittain
Corrupting complicities - the Guantanamo Dossiers
'MI5 and MI6 to be sued for first time over torture' by Vikram Dodd, in The Guardian, 12 September 2007
The fertiliser trial that led to the conviction of Omar Khyam and others in April 2007 revealed the plight of Salahuddin Amin - sentenced to life, but making an appeal. The Guardian journalist Ian Cobain reported that "one of the men convicted of the bomb plot was arrested in Pakistan and interrogated there for 10 months while his co-conspirators were being questioned in London. Salahuddin Amin, a British citizen, alleges he was repeatedly beaten and flogged, threatened with an electric drill, shown other prisoners who had been tortured, and forced to listen to the screams of men being abused nearby....Under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, it is illegal for British officials to commission acts of torture anywhere in the world, or even to acquiesce in the face of torture. The crime can be punished by life imprisonment. MI5 officials denied that they knew Amin was being tortured. They said there was no reason to suspect it was happening. Amin's lawyers dismiss these denials as laughable, given the ISI's notorious reputation for mistreatment of prisoners. His counsel, Patrick O'Connor QC, suggested to the jury that perhaps both sides in the so-called war on terror had come 'to share common standards of illegality and immorality'. Amin's lawyers are convinced that the reason he was held in Pakistan for so long without consular assistance was that British officials had decided that his questioning, under torture, should be coordinated with the questioning of his co-conspirators being held in the UK".
Links & references
UK agents 'may have colluded in torture' - report by Ian Cobain, The Guardian, 22nd November 2006
Passing information to regimes that practice torture
In February 2006, a Minister at the FCO, Ken Howells, made the fatuous remark that it would be "condescending[ly] liberal" and a "colonial" attitude" not to accept the assurance of some regimes that returning refugees would not be harmed. Gareth Peirce has highlighted some of the consquences of this official attitude - returning refugees have been tortured: "... two [of the] Algerians, Benaissa Taleb and Rida Dendani, dramatically miscalculated... Each was told that an amnesty applied in Algeria which he should sign even though he had committed no offence; indeed special arrangements were made by the Home Office for each man to have bail to attend the Algerian Embassy in London for this purpose. Each believed that he would not be detained more than a few hours on arrival and that, as the British diplomat organising these deportations had promised SIAC [Special Immigration Appeals Commission] there was no risk that he would be held by the infamous DRS secret police. In fact they were both interrogated for 12 days during which they were threatened and subjected to serious physical ill-treatment. They were then charged, tried and some months later convicted, on the basis of the 'confessions' forced from them during this time. Dendani was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, Taleb to three... Over the past year it has emerged that Britain has secretly been willing to disregard the most basic principles of refugee protection. First, we learned that Taleb's interrogation by the DRS was indisputably based on information received by the Algerians from the UK....".
Seeking and protecting informers
Links & references
Mousa Brown's acquital - halal Chinese arrests
Links & references
Inventory of arrests
The same concerns were raised in May 2007 by Ian Cobbain and Jeevan Vasagar of The Guardian:" A man who was accused of being one of al-Qaida's leaders in Britain and who is alleged to have sent one of the July 7 suicide bombers to a terrorism training camp in Pakistan is living freely in the home counties and is not facing any charges."
Links & references
John Cornwell, The Times, 16th March 2008
Ian Cobain and Jeevan Vasager, The Guardian, 1st May 2007
Butt's duplicity began to unravel as a result of his collaboration with Shiv Malik on a proposed book. In May 2008, the Police detained Butt at Manchester aiport and sought to obtain Shiv Malik's manuscript. This seizure was rejected by a judicial review. Interviewed by Simon Israel on Channel 4 News after his release, Butt confirmed his 'useful idiot/agent provocateur' role over the years - Channel 4 presented extracts from his Police interviews: "I have never met Osama Bin Laden. I've never met anyone from Al Qaeeda or anyone who even claimed be from Al Qaeeda at all in my entire life. I just wanna make that clear, but they did impress me..."
He was questioned about being attacked by a knife by extremists: "I actually arranged for myself to be stabbed in the shoulder, sorry in my arm and in my back because I knew if I said I had been attacked Shiv was going to ask for some proof so basically I stabbed myself...you know, it was just part of the whole scam..."
Simon Israel's report added that "Mr Butt's other claims included having tea with Mohammed Siddique Khan the London 7/7 bomber but at Police interviews he [Butt] said he did not know who he was until he heard the name in the media".
Obviously questions now need to be asked on how much the authorities knew about this 'scam', since when, and why Butt was left to bask in the media spot light creating incalculable damage to the reputation and well-being of Muslims in Britain.
"In a couple of sceptical Guardian Comment is Free I noted how at the end of 2001 after Butt first gained notoriety in the UK media with his calls from Pakistan on British Muslims to travel to Afghanistan and fight on behalf of the Taliban, he returned back to the UK and tried - unsuccessfully - to sell his story to the Daily Mirror for a cool £100,000. So, was this guy a real al-Qa’ida activist or merely an opportunist looking to make a quick buck? And if he really was an al-Qa’ida activist then why hadn’t he been prosecuted when other British Muslims have found themselves convicted on far more questionable grounds for having downloaded ‘al-Qa’ida manuals’ which are easily available on the internet?
Later, following the 7/7 bombings, Butt renounced his former extremism and became a vocal critic of al-Qa’ida. Whereas in the past he had criticised mainstream Islamic organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain for being ‘sell-outs’ he turned 180 degrees and declared that he now believed that they were in fact ‘extremists’. Unsurprisingly, he quickly gained the admiration and support of several prominent pro-Iraq war commentators with his curt dismissal of those who argued that Western warmongering and ongoing backing for Middle Eastern despots had a significant impact on the emerging terror threat. This was the Sunday Telegraph’s Alasdair Palmer's view: “British foreign policy, which has been blamed for the creation of home-grown Islamic terrorists, has had very little to do with it (in fact, the idea that all we have to do is change Government policy and the problems will disappear is another way of avoiding the reality). Mr [Shiv] Malik is not the only one to notice this. Ed Husain and Hassan Butt, both of whom were ‘captured’ by violent Islamist ideology but who have now escaped from it, have also emphasised the point. Both have been threatened by the Islamists with death, and Mr Butt is now in hiding because an attempt was made to kill him.” (June 17, 2006)
Note that - line: ‘An attempt was made to kill him’. Another prominent ‘ex-Islamist’, Ed Husain elaborated on this in the New Statesman: “In Manchester in April , Hassan Butt, a one-time jihadist who is now opposed to extremism, was stabbed and beaten for speaking out against fanaticism. He now lives in hiding.” (Ed Husain, New Statesman, June 14, 2007)
But something did not seem quite right and it was not just the fact that trial after trial has clearly shown that a key motivating factor behind planned terror acts has been the perception that Britain – alongside the US – is involved in perpetrating major human rights abuses against Muslims overseas.
After all, would an actual al-Qa’ida activist really court publicity and seek to draw attention to himself and his activities as Butt was so assiduously doing?
In addition, according to the blurb for his book which can still be read online as I write this, Butt was admitting that he was “coming to terms with the fact that I had spent a decade killing for killing’s sake.” Now that would seem like a pretty serious admission to me and I argued on the Guardian’s Cif site a couple of months ago that prodigal son or no, surely Butt should be telling all of this to the police, especially if he was genuinely repentant for his past actions?
So when the police arrested Butt and demanded that Shiv Malik hand over his notes so that they could investigate whether any actual crimes had been committed, I thought the police were definitely in the right. Would we allow other self-confessed killers to escape justice simply because they now expressed regret for their actions?
Some commentators, however, including Nick Cohen and the Tory Shadow Cabinet member Michael Gove, bitterly criticised the police. Cohen, in particular, argued in an Observer piece entitled ‘Scandal of the persecuted peacemakers’ that Butt now had an “almost patriotic belief in the best values of Britain” and that he had “a higher success rate than the intelligence services” in turning extremists back on to the straight and narrow. Cohen said that Butt was part of a new group of British Muslims that:“...help steer British Muslims away from violence while teaching wider society that radical Islam is not a rational reaction to Western provocation, but a totalitarian ideology with a life of its own. ‘How we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy,’ Butt recalled in an outburst that stuck in my mind. ‘By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the “Blair’s bombs” line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamist theology.’” (March 23, 2008)
On May 21, 2008, the Greater Manchester Police presented to the High Court the transcript of their recent interviews with Hassan Butt since he was arrested in which he, for the first time, admitted that he had ‘made up’ all the stories of his al-Qa’ida involvement: “I’ve never met anyone from al-Qaida or anyone who claimed to be from al-Qaida in my entire life...I actually arranged for myself to be stabbed in the shoulder, sorry, in my arm and in my back because I knew if I said I had been attacked Shiv was going to ask for some proof so basically I stabbed myself...you know, it was just part of the whole scam.”
Butt also admitted that contrary to his past statements, he had never met, let alone had tea with the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks, Mohammed Siddique Khan.
Al Qa’ida activist or charlatan? It would appear from his own admission to the police – which can be seen in this C4 News clip - http://link.brightcove.com/services/ link/bcpid1184614595/bctid1578617152 - that Hassan Butt was indeed in the latter category. In my own conversations with some journalists they told me that they had long believed Butt was an ‘absolute stitch up merchant’, so how was it that Nick Cohen, Shiv Malik and Co fell for him so easily?
What is worrying is the thought of where we would now be if the Greater Manchester Police had not intervened and managed to get Hassan Butt to finally admit to being a liar and a fraud? Butt’s book would no doubt have been praised by all the warmongering fans of Ed Husain’s The Islamist and for very similar reasons. There is even talk of a movie about Butt’s life having been in the pipeline… In the end, it is hard to avoid concluding that the reason Butt - along with the likes of Ed Husain etc - was being so assiduously promoted by the Islam-bashers was that he was more than willing to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear."
The unwitting informant was allowed to bask in the media limelight and feed the Islamophobes. In the interests of flushing out some criminals, the authorities seemed happy to see a whole community criminalized in the eyes of wider society. The widespread view within the community is that that the mosque was deliberately left to fester from 1996 to 2004 because it served a purpose.
Links & references
Statement by Mufti Barkatulla on the Salaam web site
BBC report, 21st November 2006
The Guardian, 10th February 2007
The Guardian, 8th February 2006
Izzadine retained his liberty after 7/7 inspite of stating that this was 'mujahideen activity' which would make people 'wake up and smell the coffee'. A number of Brooks' guilty counts were for offences committed in 2004 criminalised by the Terrorism Act 2000 - a wait of four years. He could have been charged and sentenced prior to the John Reid incident of 2006.
Links & references
Salaam Blogs: John Reid and the theatre of politics, September 2006
The Guardian, 17th April 2008
Met Police details of verdicts, 18th April 2008
Gareth Peirce concludes her seminal article in the London Review of Books with the observation that the Muslim community in Britain today lacks the allies which the Irish possessed during the Troubles - Bill Clinton, Lord Scarman, Lord Devlin, Cardinal Hume - men of stature "capable of pushing and pulling the British government publicly or privately into seeing sense". She adds, "It is for us, as a nation, to take stock of ourselves. We are very far along a destructive path, and if our government continues on that path, we will ultimately have destroyed much of the moral and legal fabric of the society that we claim to be protecting. The choice and the responsibility are entirely ours".
(c) Salaam.co.uk April 2008