The Colonel’s secret recipe – torture, rendition and the Koussa files

An interesting development, which the mainstream media, particularly the US ones seem to be ignoring, was the discovery by rebels of a cache of documents in the offices of Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence. These documents reveal that there was contact and cooperation between MI6 and the CIA with the Libyan Intelligence services going back years (certainly since 2003 anyway).

Furthermore, it seems to confirm many of the long held suspicions about the Bush Adm. policy of “extraordinary rendition”, in which individuals whom the CIA suspected of being terrorists would be abducted and put on a plane to a third party state, often states with poor human rights records, such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia whom are nominally allies of the US, but also to states such as Syria or Libya whom the US is not on terribly good relations with. These totalitarian regimes would then torture the suspects into confessing to this and that and then pass on the information to the Americans. The third party state would get out of this both the intelligence (generally those abducted were militants opposed to the tyrants rule) as well as the opportunity to eliminate the more troublesome opponents from parts of the world it could not reach. In essence such operations may well have helped prop up totalitarian regimes that the US and UK are on record as wanting to see a regime change in.

These documents serve to clear up a number of the missing details of these operations. They also suggest that that MI6 and CIA officers assisted the Libyans in preparing sheets of questions to ask and providing them with crucial background information to use against the suspects. It also seems to specifically shoot down the MI5/MI6 “aw shucks” defence (they claim they were largely unaware of the rendition policy), yet these documents show them complicit in it since 2003. The whole point of the “rendition” policy was to get around those pesky western human rights laws without MI6/CIA agents, or for that matter Tony Blair and George Bush, ending up getting their collars felt and finding themselves persecuted for torture and human rights abuses. However, with the veil of secrecy now lifted (and the wikileaks revelations) it seems to me that this third party arms length cooperation was a little more involved than we’d been led to believe.

Beyond a certain tipping point one can be convicted of crimes against humanity, even if you’re not the individual committing the crime. As far as I’m aware neither Hitler, Goring nor the other leading nazis ever personally killed a single jew, nor did Milosevic ever (far as I’m aware) kill a single Bosnian or a Croat. But in both cases the state and military forces under they’re command must certainly did commit many hideous crimes and at both Nuremburg, the Tokyo trails and various ICC trials it has been established (see the Nuremberg Principles) that a leader can be considered responsible for actions that were committed by others acting under his direction or authority, even those involving third parties (a tactic of the Serbs was to hand Bosnians over to the Bosnian serb army knowing full well they’d be killed). Now while I’m no lawyer, I suspect these documents may indicate that MI6 and the CIA had indeed exceeded this boundary. Consequently, if I was a member of MI6/CIA involved in these renditions, or Bush/Blair, I’d be “lawyering up” just about now!

But don’t heads of state and secret agents have immunity from prosecution or something like that I here people say? Ah…no! you’ve been watching too many James Bond films! There is no such thing as a license to kill. Agents of the state (police, army, secret services) are given certain rights to do “bad stuff” but they still have to act within the legal frame work of the nation. An MI5 agent breaks into you’re home without a warrant (or in a set of specified circumstances when he can do this without a warrant) he’s committing the crime of “breaking and entering” pure and simple as that. A special branch detective shoots dead a Brazilian electrician on a train because he though he might be a suicide bomber – that’s “assault with a deadly weapon” and “manslaughter”, simple as that. Nixon came within a whisker of being impeached and convicted of a host of crimes , and Clinton was similarly impeached for the lesser crime of perjury and obstruction of justice (because he and his secretary “shared” a cigar). Of course the problem in the UK and America, as with so many other countries, is that the when the authorities break the law they tend to close ranks and are generally very slow to convict they’re own. But that certainly doesn’t amount to a get out of jail free card.

However, the problem now is that this rendition case involves a third party – the new Libyan NTC government. One or two of the leaders of the NTC were on the receiving end of Libyan security forces torture and the commander of the NTC forces in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, was himself subject to rendition. He has now demanded an apology off of the American and British governments for his treatment. Again while I’m no lawyer, I think he deserves a bit more than an apology here. Some compo from MI6/CIA (or indeed Bush and Blair themselves) or maybe getting to see those UK/US officials responsible convicted of their crimes would seem more appropriate.

While the UK and America can just sweep this whole matter under the carpet, its very difficult to do that if a third party state gets involved, especially if the “crime” was technically committed in their country (meaning technically they could claim jurisdiction over the matter) and they start issuing extradition requests for people. This would put the cat among the pigeons as regards the whole Megrahi situation, as the UK/US own rhetoric on Lockerbie could be spat back at them by the NTC. If the UK can demand Megrahi’s extradition on the matter of Lockerbie and the Libyans see the UK sweep this whole matter under the carpet and not convict anyone, we’ll surely they’ve the legal right to demand the extradition of one or two of the perpetrators. Bare in mind these documents mean they now have names, although the names Tony “all-smiles” Blair, George “no brains” Bush and Dick “the penguin” Cheney would be top of my extradition list.

I think the Americans were a little too clever for themselves here. They assumed when they started this whole rendition process that any incriminating evidence would be safely buried in a totalitarian state where the only rights people had was the right to do what they were told. But the Arab spring now means that Libya and Egypt are in the transition to democracy and Syria (which would be crucial, as the worst abuses were likely conducted here) may follow. These states will likely bring in (eventually!) a written constitution and a legal system. While that legal system will draw influence from Sharia law it will conform to many of the basic standards of any democratic state throughout the world.

Notably these laws, if the experience in ex-communist countries is anything to go by, will have clauses inserted regarding retrospective prosecutions. In the 1940’s – 1950’s there was an extensive period of “denazification” in many EU countries, particularly Germany where many former Nazis were held to account for the crimes they committed during the nazi period (the Nuremberg trials were but one of the larger of a whole series of similar trial processes). Similarly, many former communist states have engaged in a similar policy of prosecuting people for crimes committed in the communist era. Now while, as I’ve pointed out in prior posts, the Libyans will need to let bygones be bygones and forgive former regimes supporters for the sake of getting the country up and running again, certain people suspected of committing particularly notorious crimes will (and should) be held to account.

Take the example of Peter Fechter. He was shot dead by border guards at the Berlin wall in 1962, for attempting to defect, in full view of the Western media. He lay for several days in the no mans land just out of reach of the Western zone. The guards who shot him were, post-communism, sought out and prosecuted for this, as were several senior GDR government members for actions committed at the Berlin wall. So while again I’m no lawyer, the legal precedence seems to be that just because a crime was committed under a prior totalitarians regime it will just be water under the bridge, etc., ah!….no! We can still do you for it. The “just obeying orders” defence has been thoroughly thrashed several times.

So what are the chances of western intelligence agents or politicans being convicted? Well on a legal level, and again I’m no lawyer, but I suspect the answer is quite high. There may not be a “smoking gun” that directly links, say Blair and Bush to these crimes (yet!), but there doesn’t need to be one. Take again the case of Nuremberg. The senior nazi leadership were very careful to avoid allowing any paper trail leading directly from them to the death camps (and certainly they made sure any such links went up in smoke as the third Reich fell). However, that still didn’t get them off the hook, due to the principle of command responsibility. Also, the suggestion that such a vast operation of murder as the nazi’s constructed could have been conducted without the senior nazi’s knowing about it and approving of it is quite frankly, ludicrous in the extreme. Again, the suggestion that this program of rendition could have been enacted under the noses of Bush, Blair and senior officers of the CIA and MI6 is wholly unbelievable. Either (A they were criminally incompetent by not knowing what was going on, or (B directly involved in it.

Unfortunately at a political level its not so clear how things will pan out. The NTC leadership may be seething over this, but they need western military support and later economic support, so they may have to bite their tongue for awhile. The process of whitewashing this incident is already well under way in the UK. Cameron has announced an “inquiry”, which no doubt like all the other ones will ignore the evidence or selectively interpret it and actually do nothing about it.

However, alongside Wikileaks, the danger is serious long term damage has now been done to MI5, MI6 and the CIA. If you’re the most famous spies in the world, you’re actions regularly being talked about in public inquires or long drawn out trials, then you’re also the worst spies in the world. Spies are supposed to work in the dark, the blinding light of the public discourse is as lethal to them as sunlight is to vampires. In pursuit of their ridiculous policies Blair and Bush have undermined the effectiveness of the entire Western intelligence apparatus and made a mockery of 60 years of international law.


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