Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, North America

Britain to Settle Rendition, Torture Case for Millions

NEW YORK, Nov 16 2010 (IPS) - The British government will reportedly pay millions in compensation to seven British nationals who were unlawfully “rendered” to U.S.-run prisons and tortured with the cooperation of British intelligence.

The British press is reporting that ministers and the security services appear to have decided that exposure of thousands of documents in open court was a risk they could not take. The documents presumably would confirm British complicity with the U.S. in the so-called “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represents two of those slated to receive reparations in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the U.S. extraordinary rendition programme.

The organisation said in a statement it was “deeply troubling that while the U.K. and many other countries are now acknowledging and addressing their official complicity in the Bush administration’s human rights abuses, here in the United States the [Barack] Obama administration continues to shield the architects of the torture program from civil liability while Bush-era officials, including former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney, boast of their crimes on national television.”

The ACLU added, “To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in a U.S. court. The U.S. can no longer stand silently by as other nations reckon with their own agents’ complicity in the torture programme. Reckoning with the legacy of torture would restore our standing in the world, reassert the rule of law and strengthen our democracy.”

“If other democracies can compensate survivors and hold officials accountable for their endorsement of torture, surely we can do the same,” the group said.

Last week, during television interviews to promote his new memoir, “Decision Points”, former U.S. president George W. Bush claimed that techniques such as waterboarding were legal and had protected the U.K. from terrorist attacks.

British Prime Minister David Cameron disagreed with Bush. In fact, it was Cameron’s agreement that lawyers for the former prisoners should begin negotiations with the government that led to the settlement expected to be announced imminently.

The detainees understood to be in line for settlements include Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga. Mohamed and Al Rawi, plaintiffs in the Jeppesen case, claim they were kidnapped, forcibly rendered to U.S.- run prisons overseas, and tortured.

The Obama administration invoked the so-called state secrets privilege to have the Jeppesen case thrown out, and a federal appeals court dismissed the case in September. The ACLU has asked the Supreme Court to review that decision.

Britain is one of several nations that have taken responsibility for their role in the illegal torture programme run by the Bush administration by initiating investigations or public inquiries.

A forthcoming British inquiry will investigate the role U.K. officials played in the programme. It was Cameron’s agreement that the government should negotiate with the former prisoners that opened the way for a broad inquiry into what British intelligence officials knew about the U.S. rendition and torture programmes, and what they did about it. The inquiry is scheduled to report by the end 2011.

The British high court had ruled that confidential documents would have to be released during court hearings. This would take inordinate amounts of time and the documents would likely be highly embarrassing to U.K. officials.

When Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed sued the British government last year for being complicit in his imprisonment and torture, it caused a major furor in the U.K. foreign office establishment.

The former foreign secretary, David Miliband, fought in the high court to have the suit dismissed, on grounds that U.S. officials had threatened to stop exchanging intelligence with their British allies if the case went ahead. The high court ruled in favour of Mohamed.

The ruling said that Mohamed was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” by U.S. authorities and ordered the release of a previously secret seven-paragraph summary of CIA documents on his treatment.

Paying reparations to Mohamed will inevitably further diminish Miliband’s reputation.

It appears that the payment to former Guantanamo prisoners would represent the first time a group of former prisoners has successfully sought financial restitution.

The only other known instance of a prisoner receiving a money award is the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. He was stopped by U.S. authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York while en route from North Africa to his home in Canada, shipped off first to Jordan, and finally to Syria, where he was imprisoned, held incommunicado without charge, and tortured for almost a year. The Syrian authorities then released him without charge.

The U.S. had acted on information supplied by the Canadian Government. After a two-year investigation of the incident, Canada made a formal apology to Arar and awarded him close to $10 million.

However, he remains on a U.S. “no fly” list and cannot enter the United States.

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