Military personnel escort detainees to a U.S. interrogation center at Kandahar airport, Afghanistan. [Source:]

UK government shamefully cooperated with U.S. in torture of al-Qaeda suspects

We Americans have had a painful and difficult national debate over the past 20 years relative to torture. Torture was official U.S. government policy from 2002 until at least 2005, and that iteration was not formally outlawed until passage of the McCain-Feinstein Amendment in 2015. (The torture program was a highly-classified secret from 2002 until I revealed it in a nationally-televised interview in December 2007.)

In truth, torture has been illegal in the U.S. since at least the end of World War II. In 1946, the U.S. Government executed Japanese soldiers who had waterboarded American prisoners of war. In January 1968, the Washington Post ran a front-page photograph showing an American soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner.

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On the day the photo ran, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered an investigation. The soldier was arrested, tried, convicted of torture, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Torture was clearly a crime in 1946 and in 1968. But somehow, due to the legalistic gymnastics of the Bush Administration, torture was somehow magically legal in 2002. The law hadn’t changed; Americans had. It took us until 2015 to come to our collective senses again.

What Americans generally don’t discuss is the position and actions on torture of our closest friend and ally, the United Kingdom. There is very little in the American media addressing the UK position on torture and whether the UK participated in “enhanced” interrogations during the so-called War on Terror.

Certainly, there has been reporting on British actions in Northern Ireland during the “troubles” there. We know, for example, about the “hooded men”—Northern Irish men who were arrested and held without charge by British officers, hooded, kept in stress positions, deprived of sleep, deprived of food and water, and in some cases thrown out of low-flying helicopters. (Sound familiar?)

But precious little has been said about UK cooperation with the U.S. Government against al-Qaeda members and their allies.

British troops hold captive in Iraq. [Source:]

With that said, we can still draw conclusions based on what little the UK Government has revealed. In 2020, for example, a UK court denied a request by two members of Parliament and a human rights organization to publicly investigate the role of the British intelligence services in torture and rendition.

The judges declared that the MPs and the human rights organization Reprieve did not have standing to force the case, and that only the actual victims of torture and rendition would have standing. They did not address the fact that many of those who had allegedly been tortured were either missing or dead because of, well, torture and rendition.

In an earlier hearing related to the same case, judges heard that there were at least 15 people who had alleged that they had been tortured by British intelligence officers, but very few details from those cases were ever made public.

Only one name was revealed at the time—that of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan national snatched by the CIA in Thailand in 2004 with “help” from the British MI-6. Belhaj was rendered to Libya, tortured again, and sentenced to death, although he somehow survived the experience. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May eventually apologized to him.

Former Libyan insurgent Abdul Hakim Belhaj torture and illegal rendition  appeal against UK Government to be heard today | The Independent | The  Independent
Abdel Hakim Belhaj. [Source:]

Even if British intelligence officers did not personally torture Belhaj or other prisoners, they must answer for their cooperation with the United States and other countries where torture was used. And they must account for the information they used in other cases when that information was collected through torture.

Vincent Cannistraro — Charlie Rose
Vincent Cannistraro [Source:]

The UK, like the U.S., maintains close relationships on, and “memoranda of understanding” on, counterterrorism with countries including Jordan, Libya, and Lebanon, countries known to use torture.

In the words of Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA’s former Director of Counterterrorism, “You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind” to believe that some of these countries would not use torture, despite promises to the contrary. Why won’t the British government promise to not use information gathered through the use of torture? Its people are still waiting for an answer.

The UK, like the U.S., is an original signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

convention against torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Its tenets are actually quite simple. The agreement bans, “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

It doesn’t get much more clear than that. Now it’s up to the UK government to come clean.

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  1. After the Iraqi Air Defense General surrendered to the US…he was tortured to death. What a stain on the US and its “moral authority”.

  2. I’d be very surprised if the soldier caught waterboarding a Vietnamese prisoner actually did much time in prison. Lt. William Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor for his role in the My Lai massacre, but ended up doing three years of home detention instead (per Wikipedia). Remember how the sexual humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib was blamed on ‘a few bad apples’ at first? Then it turned out there were a bunch of bad apples at the prison, and even some bad apple private contractors, but that the officers in charge were completely unaware of what was going on. The enlisted bad apples were tried and punished for their dastardly behavior, with a few serving years in prison. Then, years later, it turned out to be part of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program. (See “Report Blames Rumsfeld for Detainee Abuses”, NYT, Dec. 11, 2008.)

  3. Very good article but I don’t understand why John Kiriakou uses the terms “The torture program”. Torture is one of the subjects at all main Military Academies. I have known this since my teen, 65 years ago. This is probably so because I grew up in Argentina, a country that sends, like most Latina American countries, their selected military to ‘perfect’ their Art of fighting, torturing and killing to American and British Military Academies (I call them Torture and Death Academies).

    Up to the end of the last century, American conveniently concealed their training of future Latin American torturers, dictators, Junta members, in Panama. The institution’s name was The School of the Americas, (also known as The School of Assassins), from the start of the year 2000 they moved to the most impressive building at 7301 Baltzell Ave, Fort Benning, Georgia 31905 and changed their name to the more attractive and obscure Western Hemisphere Institute Security Cooperation, WHINSEC for short. Of course students at the academy don’t study and pass their exams on ‘Torture’. The official name is something like ‘Information gathering’. We should actually not be surprised. Any young man or woman who chooses the career of professional murderer’ is because they enjoy causing something nasty nasty to other human beings, so torture is all part of the game for them.

    Now CIA is a different story and I hope John Kiriakou tells as about their torture ‘program’, which conveniently includes electro-shock, not to add to the experience, but to make the victim ‘forget’ the experience, so as not to be able to remember what happened to you. This ‘loss of memory’ is enhanced by aesthetic surgeons, who remove scars, burning marks, etc from the victims body bebore he/she is released into the world.

    Militarism cannot bring anything else bu bad, ugly news. . Sadly, nothing will change whilst people are brainwashed into believing a patriot must defend his/her country. This only is ‘kill and die’ so that military manufacturers, Banks, negotiating politicians and diplomats and the funeral industry make fortunes for themselves.

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