New torture case embarrasses the West

Fresh allegations have emerged that western intelligence handed terrorist suspects over to torturers. Has the fearful legacy of 9/11 resulted in ten years of human rights abuses?

Rebel commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj has played a key role in Libya's fight for democracy. But in 2004, it is claimed, UK intelligence services helped send him to the torture chambers of Gaddafi's regime.

Evidence for the claims lies in a secret stash of documents which suggest Britain may have been heavily involved in sending terror suspects to be tortured. In one memo a MI6 agent tells Moussa Koussa, then Gaddafi's head of security, that handing over Belhaj was 'the least we could do for you and for Libya.'

For many, the revelations aren't surprising. Although the truth remains a highly classified secret, there have been repeated allegations that Britain and America avoided their own national laws, which forbid torture, by sending detainees to be tortured abroad.

Former detainees and security experts claim men have been flown between 'Black Sites' in areas including Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and Thailand, where they are subjected to extreme interrogation methods. According to one claim, the CIA has transported over 100 people under this 'Extraordinary Rendition' programme, a key part of the War on Terror that followed the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Belhaj says that during the three years of his detention in Libya he was hung from the wall, kept in isolation and regularly tortured.

Under British and American law, it is illegal to hold suspects for long periods without a lawyer, or to use torture when questioning them. In secret prisons thousands of miles away, though, the authorities don't have to worry about such issues.

Though it may seem less dramatic than a global torture network, many also worry that fears of al Qaeda are damaging civil liberties at home. Under UK control orders, introduced in anti-terror legislation in 2005, suspects are kept under severe restrictions and surveillance.

Desperate measures

Since 9/11, the threat of devastating terror attacks has been terrifyingly real, and security services have a grave responsibility to protect innocent people. For western governments faced with evidence of a potential terrorist attack, inaction cannot be an option – they argue that this sometimes means the rights of the individual take a back seat to protect the safety of the masses.

On the other hand, civil liberties and human rights are cornerstones of democracy which the'War on Terror' wants to protect. By forgetting to uphold these will the West lose its moral authority? If we're prepared to discard our values when struggling to defend them, are they really worth fighting for?

You Decide

  1. Can torture ever be justified?
  2. Do terrorists have the same rights as ordinary criminals? Why / why not?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were a young person, placed under a control order with little information on the evidence against you. Write a diary entry about your experience.
  2. Stage a hearing to decide whether the US should take such a hard line on terror suspects. Have a team to argue both sides, and appoint a jury to ask questions and decide a conclusion.

Some People Say...

“Civil rights are a luxury.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does extraordinary rendition help catch terrorists?
It's difficult to say, as everything's shrouded in secrecy. Because it's designed to catch attackers before they strike, knowing what's been prevented is also difficult. However, many argue that rendition makes terrorism more likely, by damaging America's reputation.
How is the UK involved in rendition?
Largely, Britain has only been 'guilty by association', providing the US with intelligence rather than directly organising. Binyam Mohamed, for example, was allegedly visited by British agents whilst imprisoned and tortured for 7 years.
What's being done about it?
The allegations are a huge embarrassment for this and the previous UK government, and an independent inquiry has been launched. Human rights groups also campaign for an end to rendition.

Word Watch

MI6
Also known as SIS - the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6 is responsible for foreign intelligence, whilst MI5 focuses on intelligence within the UK. Although it was founded in 1909, the existence of MI6 was only officially recognised in 1994.
CIA
The Central Intelligence Agency, responsible for providing security information to the USA.
Black Sites
Secret prisons operated by the United States, where torture was widely alleged to have taken place.
Al Qaeda
The international terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 hijackings, as well as other terror attacks. Led by Osama Bin Laden before he was killed earlier this year, al Qaeda is a global organisation, thought to be made of cells, which share the broad goal of achieving a particular type of political Islam through violent means.
Civil Liberties
Particular human rights, which individuals should be entitled to in society, for example, the right to free speech, to freedom of movement and association.

Subjects

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