The foyer at CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty
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CIA torture report: the UK must be honest about its complicity in these grisly crimes

What has been published by the Senate is just the tip of the iceberg – so far, the UK has successfully avoided a public accounting for the part it played in facilitating rendition and torture.

The Senate’s report on CIA torture – or rather the executive summary which has been declassified – doesn’t make for easy reading. Not only is it over 500 pages long; it includes details with the power to shock even those who thought themselves familiar with the horrors of the CIA torture programme. One detainee died from excessive cold; at least five others were subjected to “rectal feeding”; interrogators threatened to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat;” multiple victims were left so disturbed by their abuse that they made attempts at “self-mutilation”.

But for all the important work this report does in bringing to public attention the horrific nature of the torture programme, what has been published remains just the tip of the iceberg. It is less than a tenth of the full 6,000-page report. Significant numbers of those we know to have been victims of CIA torture are not named. And the countries which assisted the US in its programme also largely avoid public shaming.

Notable among these is the UK. More may emerge as people undertake detailed consideration of the report, and attempt to unpick the redactions, but at first look it appears that Britain, although mentioned in the summary, has successfully avoided a public accounting for the part it played in facilitating rendition and torture. And it has to be asked if this was down to the strenuous efforts it made to lobby the Senate Committee which produced the report, in the hope of avoiding just that public embarrassment.

It is worth stressing that UK complicity in CIA “renditions” – where prisoners were flown to countries where they could be subjected to torture, beyond the reach of the law – is not, as Jack Straw once said, the fantasy of conspiracy theorists. Just a few years after these comments, David Miliband, who by then was foreign secretary, was forced to admit that the claims that Britain had not been involved in rendition were entirely false. Detainees on CIA torture flights, he told parliament in 2008, had in fact landed on the British-owned territory of Diego Garcia. Three years after that, correspondence from MI6 to Gaddafi’s spy chief came to light in the wake of the Libyan revolution: in it, a senior British spy fell over himself to take credit for the rendition of Gaddafi’s opponents to Libyan prisons, where they faced years of torture. Those opponents were accompanied by their wives – one heavily pregnant at the time – and children – all aged 12 or under.

One of those children, Khadija al Saadi – whose family is being assisted in their efforts towards accountability by legal charity Reprieve – has written powerfully about her ordeal. She recounts how, on arrival in Libya – courtesy of MI6 and the CIA – they were driven

to a secret prison outside Tripoli, where I was certain we were all going to be executed. All I knew about Libya at that time was that Colonel Gaddafi wanted to hurt my father, and that our family had always been moving from country to country to avoid being taken to him. Now we had been kidnapped, flown to Libya, and his people had us at their mercy.

Yet Khadija’s story – and the UK’s role in her suffering – is not mentioned in those parts of the report which have been made public. Neither is the use of UK territory as an airstrip for CIA torture flights. So what’s gone wrong?

Two documents, obtained by Reprieve, may shed some light: one of them, a letter from then-Foreign Secretary William Hague, confirms that the UK “made representations” to the Senate Committee regarding the potential disclosure of “UK material” in its report. It doesn’t seem to require much reading between the lines to see this for what it is: an admission that Britain lobbied the US Senate Committee over what it would publish about the UK’s part in torture and rendition. The second document, obtained under Freedom of Information, shows the scale of that lobbying effort: the British Ambassador to the US was dispatched to meet – and presumably plead – with members of the committee an astonishing 21 times during the course of its work.

At the risk of being accused by Jack Straw of falling for conspiracy theories, it does not seem unreasonable to see the UK’s intense lobbying of the Senate Committee as in some way connected to the lack of embarrassing information relating to the UK published in the report; despite the extensive evidence already in the public domain which proves that the UK helped the CIA to kidnap, render and torture.

This would fit too with the bigger picture: the government continues to fight in the courts to prevent rendition cases from even being heard. The prime minister has u-turned on his July 2010 promise to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into British involvement in torture. And ministers claim that records held on Diego Garcia which might have provided crucial evidence of rendition operations have been mysteriously damaged by “extremely heavy weather” – during a suspiciously dry month.

Now it seems that, not content with shutting down accountability in their own country, our political masters have reached across the Atlantic to stymie torture revelations there as well. The British public – not to mention the Americans – deserve better. We need a full accounting of UK complicity in these grisly crimes – which, let us not forget, sank so low as to target not just adults but even children like Khadija and her siblings.

Donald Campbell is head of communications at Reprieve

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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