Friday, March 27, 2009

Torture victim Binyam Mohamed: don't scapegoat MI5 officer.

Binyam Mohamed, the British resident recently released from Guantanamo Bay - who claims that he was tortured whilst being held in Pakistan, Morocco, and Afghanistan - has said that he might testify on behalf of an MI5 officer, known only as Officer B, because he does not want Officer B to be scapegoated for the fact that Mohamed was tortured with what he claims was British collusion.

Officer B is suspected of having colluded in Mohamed's interrogation and the Attorney General has now called in the Metropolitan police to investigate the claims regarding the MI5's involvement in this case.

However, Binyam Mohamed is obviously concerned that Officer B is being offered up as a sacrificial lamb to let other off the hook and he is determined to stop this happening.

The attorney general's move yesterday was welcomed by MPs, lawyers and human rights groups. However, they made clear that it did not go far enough, and that a judicial inquiry was needed to investigate the full extent of Britain's alleged collusion in torture.

Scotland said that after reviewing a "substantial body of material, much of it highly sensitive", and after consulting the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, she concluded that the evidence should be passed to the police.

She said she hoped the investigation would be carried out as "expeditiously as possible, given the seriousness and sensitivity of the issues involved".

The evidence includes open and secret high court hearings where Officer B was questioned about his interrogation of Mohamed when he was being held in Pakistan in 2002. The court heard that MI5 provided the CIA with material to interrogate Mohamed, even though it said it had no idea at the time where he was being held and in what condition he was in.

In a case Lord Justice Thomas described as "deeply disturbing", involving "many and very troublesome issues", the high court concluded: "The conduct of the security service facilitated interviews by or on behalf of the United States when [Mohamed] was being detained by the United States incommunicado and without access to a lawyer." They court added: "Under the law of Pakistan, that detention was unlawful ."

Mohamed has always insisted that he does not want individuals to be punished for what he says was government policy.

"I'm very pleased that there's going to be an independent investigation," he told the Guardian today. "I remain concerned that the investigations shouldn't just focus on the small people and that one agent shouldn't be the scapegoat for what was a government policy. I understand that the investigation will include the people directly responsible for the torture, the Americans, and this is obviously very important."

We witnessed, after the scandal at Abu Ghraib was discovered, the way in which governments will throw certain individuals to the dogs and claim that they were "bad apples" who were acting outwith of government policy. However, Binyam Mohamed is insisting that these individuals - in this case Officer B - were merely following orders which came from much higher up the food chain and that the blame for the policy lies with the administration which set it; in this case he clearly means the American administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

The former head of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, appears to share Binyam's worry that only a judicial inquiry will be "sufficiently transparent to attract public confidence".

"If crimes have been committed, to deal with them alone would amount to scapegoating and would, in any event, only scratch at the surface of the problem," he said.

The only way to achieve justice in such circumstances is to go after the individuals who set the policy, not to settle for the conviction of the grunts on the ground who carried out the policy.

Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed's lawyers, makes clear what an inquiry should be looking into:
It is, above all, crucial that the police investigation has proper scope. As Binyam himself says, we shouldn't just blame the "little guys". We believe that Agent B and his direct superiors were involved in illegal behaviour, but the investigation should not stop there. It seems very likely that Agent B was acting with authorisation and the question must be how far up the line that authorisation went, both in the UK and the US. Agent B must not be the scapegoat: if his actions were sanctioned, the person at the top of the chain of command who sanctioned those actions must be held responsible and accountable.
To that end Binyam Mohamed is actually prepared to testify on behalf of one of the agents who colluded in his torture. To make sure that individuals are not scapegoated for what was government policy.

Because of such brave actions from people like Binyam Mohamed, the noose is surely tightening around the necks of Bush and Cheney.

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