Blair and rendition


Tony Blair might be out of the political theatre. But he is not out of business. Not when his role in the GWOT still follows him everywhere.
The last week saw the thrice-elected Prime Minister, who has been out of office for almost as long has was in, hit the headlines once more. Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a parliamentary body, spent the last three years gathering evidence to ascertain the country’s role in torture and rendition. The findings are not good. Though they apportion blame to the intelligence agencies rather than the then civilian set-up; on the basis that the latter was not kept entirely in the loop. None of which is reassuring.
The ISC has concluded that the Blair government did not do enough to stop the “inexcusable” treatment of detainees held by the US. Admittedly, it clears British military officers of having directly carried out torture. But it also cites nine instances whereby members of the armed forces made verbal threats; two cases of being party to ‘mistreatment’ carried out by others; and a whopping 232 cases in which questions or intelligence were supplied to foreign agents despite London being aware of suspected torture.
On the question of rendition, the picture is equally grim with three known cases of British spies paying or offerings to pay foreign states to rendition detainees regardless of the risk of torture. The ISC report has cleared the UK of permitting US rendition flights to enter into British airspace with a detainee on board. Yet it makes no mention of rendition taking place directly from UK soil to American-run overseas military bases. Such allegations were first made by British detainee Moazzam Begg; who himself was renditioned from Pakistan to first Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and then on to Guantanamo Bay. In addition, the ISC makes no reference to Gen (rtd) Pervez Musharraf’s claims that British intelligence sought to outsource the torture of its nationals to the ISI.
Most startling of all, perhaps, is the absence of even a contextual mention of the Geneva Conventions being suspended; a move that allowed Washington to treat detainees not as prisoners of war but as ‘enemy combatants’. This was a political decision undertaken in the US. And one that was not challenged by Downing Street. As such, it would likely have made a more pragmatic starting point for the ISC investigations.