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

CREDIT: GETTY
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Barb Jungr’s diary: Apart-hotels, scattered families and bringing the Liver Birds back to Liverpool

My Liver Birds reboot, set in the present day with new music and a new story, is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre.

For the last three years I’ve been writing a musical. Based on Carla Lane and Myra Taylor’s Liver Birds characters Beryl and Sandra, but set in the present day with new music and a new story, it is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre – in Liverpool, appropriately. Amazingly, the sun shines as the train ambles into Lime Street, where Ken Dodd’s statue has recently been customised with a feather duster tickling stick and some garlands of orange and lime green. Outside the station, composer Mike Lindup and I buy a Big Issue. We have a scene opening Act Two with a Big Issue seller and we are superstitious. We check into our “apart-hotel”. Apart-hotel is a new word and means a hotel room with a kitchen area you will never, ever use.

At the theatre everyone hugs as though their lives depend on it; we are all aware we are heading into a battle the outcome of which is unknown. There will be no more hugging after this point till opening night as stress levels increase day by day. I buy chocolate on the way back as there’s a fridge in my apart-hotel and I ought to use it for something.

Ships in the night

There’s no point in being in Liverpool without running by the river, so I leap up (in geriatric fashion) and head out into the rain. You’d think, since I grew up in the north-west and cannot ever remember experiencing any period of consecutive sunny days here, that I’d have brought a waterproof jacket with me. I didn’t. It springs from optimism. Misplaced in this case, as it happens. I return soaking but with a coconut latte. Every cloud.

We have been in the theatre for seven hours. Everything has been delayed. The cast are amusing themselves by singing old television themes. They have just made short shrift of Bonanza and have moved on to The Magic Roundabout. We may all be going very slightly mad.

As hours dwindle away with nothing being achieved, Mike and I pop to the theatre next door to enjoy someone else’s musical. In this case, Sting’s. It’s wonderfully palate-cleansing and I finally manage to go to sleep with different ear worms about ships and men, rather than our own, about Liverpool and women.

Wood for the trees

This morning “tech” begins (during which every single move of the cast and set, plus lighting, costume, prop and sound cues must be decided and logged on a computer). Problems loom around every piece of scenery. Our smiles and patience wear thin.

By the end of the 12-hour session we know we have the most patient, professional cast in the known cosmos. I, on the other hand, am a lost cause. I fret and eat, nervously, doubting every decision, every line, every lyric. Wondering how easy it would be to start over, in forestry perhaps? There is a drug deal going on across the road in the street outside the hotel. My apart-hotel kitchen remains as new.

First preview

I slept like a log. (All those years of working with Julian Clary make it impossible not to add, “I woke up in the fireplace”.) At the crack of dawn we’re cutting scenes in the Royal Court café like hairdressers on coke. Today is ladies’ day at Aintree, which feels apropos; tonight we open Liver Birds Flying Home, here.

The spirit of Carla Lane, who died in 2016, always dances around our consciousness when we are writing. She was very good to us when we began this project, and she was incredibly important to my teenage self, gazing out for role models across the cobblestones.

I grew up in Rochdale, a first-generation Brit. My parents had come here after the war, and what family we had was scattered to the four winds, some lost for ever and some found much later on, after the Velvet Revolution. I had a coterie of non-related “aunties” who felt sorry for us. Ladies with blue rinses, wearing mothball-smelling fur coats in cold houses with Our Lady of Fátima statues lit by votive candles in every conceivable alcove. To this day, the smell of incense brings it all back. Yet the northern matriarchy is a tough breed and I’m happy to carry some of that legacy with pride.

Seeing the theatre fill with people is terrifying and exciting in equal measure. We’ve had to accept that the finale isn’t in tonight’s show because of lack of technical time. I’m far from thrilled. The show, however, has a life of its own and the actors surf every change with aplomb. The audience cheers, even without the finale. Nonetheless, I slouch home in despair. Is it too late to change my name?

Matinee day

The fire alarm is going off. I know that because I’m awake and it’s 4am. As I stand in reception among the pyjama-clad flotsam and jetsam of the apart-hotel, I suspect I’m not the only one thinking: if only they’d had alarms this annoyingly loud in Grenfell. I don’t go back to sleep. I rewrite the last scene and discuss remaining changes for the morning production meeting with my co-writer, George.

The Saturday afternoon performance (which now includes the finale) receives a standing ovation in the circle. The ratio of women to men in the audience is roughly five to one. In the evening performance it is 50/50, so I’m curious to see how Beryl and Sandra’s story plays to the chaps who’ve been dragged out on a Saturday night with their wives. In the pub after the show a man tells Lesley, the actress playing present-day Beryl, how moved he had been by what he’d seen and heard.

A few years ago I stood behind Miriam Margolyes as we were about to go on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in a Christmas show. She turned to me, saying, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” We agreed: “Because we can’t do anything else!” I suspect forestry is out of the question at this juncture. 

“Liver Birds Flying Home” is at the Royal Court, Liverpool, until 12 May.

Barb Jungr is an English singer, songwriter, composer and writer.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge