Rendition and torture: how it happened

Everyone knows by now that the US and the UK were responsible for torturing captives during the so-called war on terror.  That everyone knows this shouldn’t make the fact of it less newsworthy, but somehow it does.  Now, Ian Cobain has an extract in the Guardian from his new book Cruel Britannia that lays out the mechanics of this process — torture itself and the role of rendition — establishing UK complicity.  American involvement, alas, is too well established to merit further documentation.  Here is one example from that article:

[Binyamin] Mohamed was rendered to a secret prison near Rabat in Morocco, where interrogators beat him for hours and subjected him to loud noise for days. Once a month, he says, his torturers used scalpels to make shallow, inch-long incisions on his chest and genitals. He was accused of being a senior al-Qaida terrorist. Mohamed says he would say whatever he thought his captors wanted and he signed a statement about the dirty bomb plot.

It was clear that Mohamed was being interrogated, in part, on the basis of information supplied by the UK. During the subsequent court case, it would emerge that reports of what Mohamed was saying under torture also flowed back to London. The security service’s lawyers admitted that MI5 knew Mohamed was not in US custody during this period, but repeatedly denied knowing he was being held in Morocco. Then a number of documents disclosed during the case showed that the British officer had visited the Moroccan torture centre on three occasions while Mohamed was being tortured there. After the last visit, MI5 had sent the CIA a list of 70 questions that it wanted put to Mohamed.

Mohamed’s torture in Morocco went on for 18 months until a team of masked Americans came to take him away. One photographed his genitals, to establish that they had been mutilated when he was with the Moroccans, not in US custody. Then it was off to Afghanistan. For five months he was detained in a darkened cell in a prison somewhere near Kabul. He says he was chained, subjected to loud music and questioned by Americans. Four months later he was flown to Guantánamo, where he says he was routinely humiliated and abused over the next four and a half years.

Torture and rendition are separate policies that work in tandem: quite a lot of torture was done directly by Western interrogators but rendition to countries like Morocco and Jordan allowed Western interrogators to gain access to the information extracted under the most extreme sorts of torture while maintaining plausible deniability about performing that torture themselves.  Some day, these policies will look like the 1942 internment of Japanese-Americans: justified as necessary in wartime, they were neither necessary nor justified and betrayed the moral and political values that made the war itself worth fighting.


I took the photograph above at the Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  It is now a genocide memorial site.  That is the company the American and British torture policies keep.


Leave a Reply