The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The plane

Forty miles from where I write, a man sits. His eyes and ears are covered, his wrists and ankles manacled. He has been drugged. He may not know he is aboard a Lockheed Gulfstream jet, refuelling on the tarmac at Glasgow International Airport. He may not know where he's going.

He is going to be tortured. With beatings. With a scalpel. With a broken bottle. He will sign a confession. He will say he knows people whose names have been given to him. Some of the people he names may, some day, be on that plane. He may be on that plane himself because somebody else has, in the same position, named him.

At some moment, in the past year or two, this has been the case. It may be the case at this moment.

The confession he gives may be true. The confession that named him may be true. But that is how it was obtained. We know what such confessions are worth. The British government wants to make them admissible evidence in British courts.

This man's story may be a tissue of lies. It may be exaggerated. I rather hope it is. The man's laywer, Clive Stafford Smith, OBE, doesn't think so. He's suing the British government over it. There is no dispute, really, that all of this goes on. Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, describes the process:
"In Uzbekistan, it works like this," he says. "Person X is tortured and signs a statement saying he’s going to crash planes into buildings, or that he’s linked to Osama bin Laden. He’s also asked if he knows persons X, Y and Z in the UK who are involved in terrorism. He’ll be tortured until he agrees, though he’s never met them."

The confession is sent to the CIA where, according to Murray, it is "sanitised". Before sanitisation the report "will have the guy’s name on it, the date of the interrogation, where it took place - and might still be bloodstained.

"The CIA then issues a debriefing document, which does not name the individual. It does not say he was tortured. It only says that it is a detainee debriefing from a friendly overseas security service.

"This will set out the brief facts, such as "we now know person X in London is in Islamic Jihad and plans to blow up Canary Wharf". This goes to MI6 - the British and Americans share everything - and then it goes to MI6’s customers: the Prime Minister, the defence secretary, the home secretary, the foreign secretary, and other key ministers and officials. I was one of these customers too because I was the ambassador to Tashkent.
The jet has finished refuelling. The hoses are disconnected. Through the seat, a man feels the vibration as the engines start. Through silent headphones the rising sound comes through, like a scream. He's on his way.


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