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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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.