Blair scribbled on the note, "The key is to find out how they are being treated. Though I was initially sceptical about claims of torture, we must make it clear to the US that any such action would be totally unacceptable and v quickly establish that it isn't happening."
Tony Blair was warned a matter of weeks after American forces began rounding up terror suspects that British nationals held by the US in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay were being tortured, secret documents disclosed in the high court reveal.
He expressed concern about their treatment after initially being sceptical, he admits in a hand-written note on a Foreign Office (FO) document dated 18 January 2002. It appears among heavily redacted MI5 and FO documents released in court hearings in which British nationals are suing the government, MI5 and MI6
But did anyone do what Blair's scribble asked for?
Evidence has since emerged that the British government knew the US was mistreating and torturing UK nationals and residents after January 2002 and for years afterwards, but did not seriously protest about it.I remember that in "A Man For All Season's" Thomas More pointed out that, in such circumstances, British law relied upon the Latin phrase, "Qui tacet consentit", - silence equals consent - which would imply that, if Blair did not adequately protest against torture, that the law would assume he was consensual to it's practice.
I have yet to find any evidence that Blair protested against these American practices, and plenty of evidence exists to show that he must have been aware of them at the time that they were practiced.
We can only surmise what the writer of the note was hinting at, but it seems pretty clear to me.
A separate, previously classified Ministry of Defence document now released in heavily redacted form and dated 13 January 2002, warns that "the US treatment of the prisoners could be judged to be... [phrase blacked out]".
After noting that the ICRC was denied access, the writer of the note continues: "It is clear that the US is pushed logistically but my understanding of the Geneva Convention is that this is no excuse".
Indeed, they are "pretty straightforward questions". When did we know of the torture allegations and what did we do about it?
In one document, an official at the British embassy in Washington warns the FO in London reported back on discussions with the US in October 2001 about detention and treatment of detainees. "I drew attention to ECHR Article 3 [the European human rights convention's ban on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment] ..."
In January 2002 an MoD official noted: "From my visit to Bagram [prison in Afghanistan] and watching the reception of the 80 plus prisoners, it would seem that this detainee issue is one that has the potential to reflect badly on the US/coalition ... the US treatment of the prisoners could be judged to be [redacted]".
Another document, a 19-page appendix to a cabinet briefing paper dated 14 January 2002 and headed "UK nationals held in Afghanistan" is completely redacted.
During the court hearings, Jonathan Crow QC, for the security and intelligence agencies, said it was difficult and time-consuming for MI5 and MI6 to collate the documents relating to the case. Mr Justice Silber intervened at one point, saying: "But it is important in a case of this magnitude".
Richard Hermer QC, for the former detainees, told the court that at the heart of the case was the question of when MI5 and MI6 first became aware of the prisoners' treatment by the US. They were "pretty straightforward questions", he said.
To many of us, it appears that we did nothing.
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