Torture, Jack Bauer and Binyam Mohamed

My column this week on the pro-war liberal left.

My column in the magazine this week is on the subject of torture, and how: a) the US administration of George W Bush, disconnected from reality, used Jack Bauer and the television show 24 as an inspiration for its immoral, inhumane and ineffective "enhanced interrogation techniques", and b) how pro-war liberals in the UK have been unable to distance themselves from the inevitable and barbaric consequences of the lawless wars that they enthusiastically supported. There has therefore been much turning of eyes, equivocation and "Yes, buttery . . ."

You can read it here.

One point I didn't have space to touch on in the piece is this pernicious idea that our "intelligence-sharing" relationship with the United States has been permanently or irrevocably damaged by the Binyam Mohamed case and the law lords' ruling last week. It's pernicious for two reasons.

First, it suggests that our moral and legal obligations not to torture, or be complicit in torture, should take a backseat to all-important "national security" considerations and, in particular, the maintenance of good relations between MI5/MI6 and the CIA. And second, it is false and disprovable. Here's Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence in the United States, in an official statement, issued after the law lords' ruling:

The protection of confidential information is essential to strong, effective security and intelligence co-operation among allies. The decision by a United Kingdom court to release classified information provided by the United States is not helpful, and we deeply regret it.

The United States and the United Kingdom have a long history of close co-operation that relies on mutual respect for the handling of classified information. This court decision creates additional challenges, but our two countries will remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups.

Finally, let's not forget that it was an American judge (Gladys Kessler) in an American court (the US district court for the District of Columbia), in December 2009, who acknowledged, in a declassified ruling, that the account of Mohamed's torture in US custody was based on "credible" evidence. As Kessler wrote:

During that time, he [Binyam Mohamed] was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans. The government does not dispute this evidence.

The US government does not dispute this evidence! Those on the liberal left who backed the Bush administration's lawless conduct on the international stage, in the name of spreading "democracy" and "freedom" and "human rights" (!), should read this judgment and hang their heads in shame.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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