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Corrupting Complicities - the Guantanamo Dossiers
In January 2004, Home Secretary Blunkett assured a Muslim audience in Watford that the British detainees in Gauntanamo, when returned to the UK, would be put on trial if they were considered guilty of wrong-doing, or else they would be freed - to "go about their business" (14th January, The Guardian). He ruled out the possibility that they would be electronically tagged or kept under surveillance if they return to the UK.
In March 2004, after over two years in captivity, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, Jamal Udeen and Tarek Dergoul were returned to the UK. They were accompanied back by anti-terrorism officers, including it is believed, Detective Superintendent David Tucker - an officer who has made efforts to improve the police's image within the public at large and currently heads Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, SO13. On touch-down at RAF Northolt four of the detainees were arrested and taken to Paddington Green police station while a fifth was detained elsewhere. All men were subsequently released without charge after interrogation.
On 12th November 2004, after talks in Washington, Prime Minister Blair was interviewed by Adam Boulton of Sky TV
AB: Speaking of freedom or lack of it what about the British based detainees at Guantanamo, you've asked for them back is George Bush going to give them back to you?The Daily Telegraph (14th November 2004) picked up on the Prime Minister's "unexpected comments" on the ex-detainees, indicating that "it confirmed that the five were the subject of round-the-clock police surveillance".
Gareth Pearce, solicitor for three of the released men - the so-called Tipton Three - denied that any had been in trouble with the authorities and said that Blair's words would be libelous if applied to them. Louise Christian, solicitor of a fourth, said that her client had been in no trouble and called Blair's claims disgraceful: "The implication that he or one of the other four men are guilty of some kind of crime is not right. Mr. Blair should be helping to clear their names, not attacking them without foundation." The episode reflects a wider culture of kow-towing that has had corroding affects on professional standards in the Security Services, drawing one former head of MI5 to note that she "found it difficult to come to terms" with inhuman US practices in Guantanamo. Dame Stella Rimington's concern was prompted by a dossier based on interviews with the Tipton Three that catalogues British involvement alongside US forces:
…. he [Rhuhel Ahmed ] was taken before the British officer and interrogated for about 3 hours. He said that one of the U.S. soldiers had a gun to his head and he was told that if he moved they would shoot him. The SAS officer said, "You are funded by the Al Muhajeroon to fight." He was told to admit that he came to Afghanistan for holy "jihad"…..He was questioned as to how he paid for his ticket. The SAS man also mentioned three maximum security prisons in Britain, including Belmarsh, and said that he would be sent there. When he was taken back from there the soldiers forced his head right down and threw him on the floor, forced to his knees with his head forced onto the ground and hands pulled up backwards, forcing his head right down into the broken glass and stones on the ground. When he screamed, the force was increased. The floor consisted of sand, broken glass and stones and Rhuhel's hands were cuffed at the back and his feet were shackled…. He was taken back to see the British SAS officer a second time the following day. He was told that "your friends have confessed to being members of the Al Muhajeroon". He asked him to admit that he was also a member. He showed him a list of names and suggested that a particular doctor from the Central Mosque in Birmingham paid for him to go out to fight in Afghanistan. The SAS man then left the tent and the U.S. soldiers roughed him up again (as Rhuhel has also described).
The dossier also documents interrogations at Guantanamo conducted by FCO officers.
The first interrogations for Asif and Shafiq took place in a tent. By the time Rhuhel arrived they had built some booths (see below). Shafiq says 'In the tent, there was somebody who introduced himself as being from the British Embassy in Washington and a civilian from MI5. There was also an American soldier behind the table. There were at least 7 or 8 others standing in the tent behind me, but I was not allowed to look back. I was put in a chair with an armed soldier nearby. I was asked my name, address and family details. I was also asked for my phone number and other information about my family. The MI5 officers told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not cooperate they could make life very difficult for me. They kept insisting that I tell them I had gone to Afghanistan for "jihad". They told me that if I agreed to this, then I could go back to England…
Until August 2004, prior to the dossier's release, the FCO was alleging that no detainee had made allegations of ill-treatment while in captivity! Much like the Home Secretary's assurance in Watford, a climate has been created where it is wiser to hold judgment on HMG's statements. What justification is there to subject the ex-Guantamao detainees to a 24x7 surveillance, possibly being implemented via some form of surreptitious electronic tagging? With a further four British citizens and two residents still in Guantanamo, Victoria Brittain has correctly observed that Britain is a partner in a horror "with the complicity of MI5 and the Foreign Office" (The Guardian, 4th August 2004).