Blair and Straw face questions over complicity in Shaker Aamer's treatmentr
Alex Salmond says Guantánamo detainee’s claim that former PM and minister must have known of his torture is reasonable
Frances Perraudin and Ian Cobain
Tony Blair and Jack Straw must reveal what they knew about the alleged torture of the former Guantánamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, Alex Salmond has said.
In his first interview since returning home to London in October after being detained without charge for 14 years in the US military facility in Cuba, British resident Aamer suggested the former prime minister and the former foreign secretary were aware that he was being tortured.
“The not unreasonable allegation that Shaker Aamer makes is that both the [then] prime minister Tony Blair and … Jack Straw must have known not just about his illegal abduction, but also about his torture at the hands of the US authorities,” Salmond told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
The SNP foreign affairs spokesman and former Scottish first minister said that “as with so many other things”, Blair and Straw had a great deal to answer for. “They have to be asked the straight question of how could they possibly not have known about the fate that had befallen a British citizen,” he said.
“Governments have many responsibilities, but the primary responsibility of all governments is to keep their own citizens safe from harm, and governments aren’t meant to collaborate on the illegal abduction and the torture of one of their own citizens. So both the then prime minister and home secretary have to face up and tell us exactly what they knew and when they knew it.”
Straw said Salmond’s comments were completely untrue. “The British government was never complicit nor condoned torture or other ill-treatment of detainees wherever they were held,” he said. “I spent a large part of my time as foreign secretary making strong representations to the US government to get British detainees out of Guantánamo Bay and the US government’s ill-treatment and torture of detainees remains a terrible stain on its record.”
Straw said that the only reference made to Aamer in the Gibson inquiry – which looked at allegations that the UK intelligence services were complicit in the torture of detainees – was in relation to representations made by Straw and David Miliband, who also served as foreign secretary, to get him out.
Not all of Sir Peter Gibson’s interim report has been made public. His inquiry was shelved by the government and is now being completed in secret by Westminster’s intelligence and security committee.
A spokesperson for Blair said: “Tony Blair has always been opposed to the use of torture, has always said so publicly and privately, has never condoned its use and thinks it is totally unacceptable. He believes the fight against radical Islamism is a fight about values and acting contrary to those values, as in the use of torture, is therefore not just wrong but counterproductive.”
Classified government documents disclosed in the high court in London in 2010, after a number of former Guantánamo detainees brought claims against the government for damages, described the role that Straw had played in consigning British nationals and residents to the Cuban prison camp from which he subsequently demanded they be freed.
The papers showed that these men had been taken to Guantánamo after Blair had been warned that the US military was feared to be torturing its prisoners and that the UK rejected US offers for them to be repatriated within weeks of their capture.
In January 2002, amid warnings from government lawyers that British Muslims captured in Afghanistan could probably not be prosecuted in the UK, and fear in Whitehall that the US would be furious if they were set free in Britain, Straw sent a telegram to several British embassies saying no objection should be raised to their removal to Guantánamo. This, he explained, was “the best way to meet our counter-terrorism objectives”. They should be held at the new US-run prison at Bagram, north of Kabul, just long enough to be questioned by a “specialist team” of MI5 interrogators.
Within days, a British intelligence officer saw a prisoner at Bagram – possibly Aamer – being mistreated and asked London for advice. Legal guidance was sent to every MI5 and MI6 officer in Afghanistan informing them that they were under no obligation to intervene to prevent torture, but warning them not be seen to condone it.
The disclosures in the high court also made clear that four days after Straw sent his secret rendition telegram, a senior official attached to the Cabinet Office sent a six-page memo to David Manning, Blair’s foreign policy advisor, in which he warned that three British citizens held in Afghanistan were “possibly being tortured” by the Americans.
Four days later, Blair wrote in the margins of a Foreign Office memo that more inquiries should be made and that the Americans must be told that such mistreatment would be “totally unacceptable”. He added that his officials should “v quickly establish that it isn’t happening”.
All but two of the British residents and nationals who were detained at Guantánamo were sent there after Blair had written this note.
In February 2002, the US told British security officials that all the British detainees could be repatriated if the UK government wished. The UK officials concluded that the UK “should not be in any hurry” to take them.
Not long after these documents were disclosed in court, government lawyers settled the damages claim and, in doing so, halted the release of any further papers.
Aamer, a Saudi-born British resident, had been detained by Afghan bounty hunters shortly after 9/11. He was handed over to the US forces as a potential al-Qaida suspect and transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Allegations were dropped against Aamer in 2007 but it was another eight years before he was released.
During his time in captivity, Aamer’s lawyers said he was tortured and held in solitary confinement for 360 days. In 2005, he lost half his body weight during a hunger strike.
In his interview with the Mail on Sunday, Aamer alleges that he had about 200 interrogations during the 14 years that he was held. He claims to have been tortured using methods including sleep deprivation and being shackled to the floor in sub-zero temperatures.
He alleges that his head was banged against a wall at the US Bagram airbase where he was first held and that a British intelligence officer was present at the time the “enhanced interrogation technique”, which had not been approved by the UK, was carried out.
In a second interview on BBC television, Aamer said the British intelligence officer who witnessed his mistreatment did not participate, but did not attempt to bring it to an end. This man had previously introduced himself as a British intelligence officer and had given his name as John. “So I have no doubt he was an Englishman, the way he spoke to me, the questions he asked.”
Aamer also suggested that he was mistreated by the US authorities as a consequence of briefings that they had received from the UK intelligence.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK government stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.
“We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone it for any purpose. Neither does the UK make use of any so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs.”
SOURCE: The Independent
SOURCE: The Independent