The court in Strasbourg has ordered British ministers to provide submissions on mass surveillance programs by the UK’s spy agency to find out whether GCHQ’s secret activities went against the European convention on human rights.
Four European civil rights groups filed a case against Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at the European Court of Human Rights over its surveillance methods in September, after being denied the chance to challenge its practices in an open court in the UK.
The UK’s Big Brother Watch, English PEN and Open Rights Group, as well as the German internet activism group, Constanze Kurz, accused GCHQ of violating the European Convention of Human Rights, insisting that alleged hacking of vast amounts of online data, emails and social media breached Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees European citizens the right to a private family life. Their case refers to two surveillance programs by the domestic spying agency, Prism and Tempora. The campaigners, who teamed up under the umbrella title of Privacy Not Prism, claimed that GCHQ has “illegally intruded on the privacy of millions of British and European citizens.”
In line with the data revealed by former US National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, about the mass surveillance programs operated by the US and Britain, the group said that “GCHQ has the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes of data a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours.” Meanwhile, under UK law, intelligence agencies are supposed to seek permission from the Secretary of State to read an individual’s text messages.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered the British government to provide their submissions by May, and the campaigners expect the court to make a ruling before the end of the year.
According to the lawyer for the groups, the ECHR has acted “remarkably quickly” communicating the case to the British government.
“It has also acted decisively by requiring the government to explain how the UK’s surveillance practices and oversight mechanisms comply with the right to privacy. This gives hope the ECHR will require reform if the government continues to insist that nothing is wrong,” Daniel Carey told the Guardian.
Both GCHQ and British ministers have insisted that none of their intelligence programs violated privacy laws and human rights.
According to GCHQ, all of its work is “carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence Services commissioners and the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague has continuously dismissed allegations that GCHQ breached the law, saying law-biding citizens have no reason whatsover to be alarmed.
“If we could tell the whole world and the whole country how we do this business, I think people would be enormously reassured by it and they would see that the law-abiding citizen has nothing to worry about,” he said in June.
“If we did that, it would defeat the objective – this is secret work, it is secret intelligence, it is secret for a reason, and a reason that is to do with protecting all the people of this country,” Mr Hague explained.
Last week a joint investigation conducted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 News, and based on the new documents leaked by Snowden, revealed that the NSA created a secret system called Dishfire to collect hundreds of millions of text messages a day. The documents showed that GCHQ had used the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications of people in the UK. According to the Guardian report, “The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.”
ICC | December 2005
When the House of Commons was debating how much to increase the time limit for detention without trial the question of torture came up. Officially this was limited to the nice considerations of whether it was all right to send people to places where torture is used and whether Britain can use information collected by the use of torture in other countries. This discussion gave an impression of democratic Britain as the home of civilised behaviour where the very idea of torture is repugnant to our legislators – unlike, say, the US with its secret CIA jails and where Cheney has been labelled the ‘Vice President for Torture’. In reality, the British state has a long history of using and developing a whole range of torture techniques.
Interrogation in Northern Ireland
Between 1971 and 1975 more than 2000 people were interned without trial by the state in Northern Ireland. Picked up without having any charges laid, or knowing when they were going to be released, detainees were subject to all sorts of treatments, some coming under the heading of ‘interrogation in depth’. Apart from prolonged sessions of oppressive questioning, serious threats, wrist bending, choking and beatings, there were instances of internees being forced to run naked over broken glass and being thrown, tied and hooded, out of helicopters a few feet above the ground. The ‘five techniques’ at the centre of the interrogators’ work were: sensory deprivation through being hooded (often while naked); being forced to stand against walls (sometimes for over 20 hours and even for more than 40); being subjected to continuous noise (from machinery such as generators or compressors for periods of up to 6 or 7 days); deprivation of food and water; sleep deprivation for periods of up to week. Relays of interrogation teams were used against the victims.
The British state tried to discredit reports of torture. Stories were fed to the media about injuries being self-inflicted – “one hard-line Provisional was given large whiskies and a box of king-size cigarettes for punching himself in both eyes” (Daily Telegraph, 31/10/77). There were indeed instances of self-harm, but these were either suicide attempts or done with the hope of being transferred to hospital accommodation.
Then the press said that any measures were justified if they helped to ‘prevent violence’. They contrasted “ripping out fingernails, beating people with steel rods and applying electric shocks to their genitalia” (Daily Telegraph 3/9/76), examples of “outright brutality”, with the measures used in Northern Ireland.
In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights said that the techniques Britain had used caused “intense physical and mental suffering and … acute psychiatric disturbance”, but that while this was “inhuman and degrading treatment” it didn’t amount to torture. This was a victory for the British state because it was keen to use means that would cause the maximum distress to the victim with the minimum external evidence. They had been previously referred to the European Court over torture in Cyprus, but in fact British interrogators had been using various combinations of the ‘five techniques’ for a long time. When the army and RUC approached Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, for formal approval “They told him that the ‘in-depth’ techniques they planned to use were those the army had used … many times before when Britain was faced with insurgencies in her colonies, including Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, the British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guyana, Aden, Borneo, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf” (Provos The IRA and Sinn Fein Peter Taylor).
By any means deemed necessary
British intervention in the Malayan ‘emergency’ in the 1950s has been held up as a model of suppression and ‘counter-insurgency’. Apart from the camps established, the murder squads, use of rigid food controls, burning down villages and the imposition of emergency regulations, the use of torture was an integral part of British operations. With 650,000 people uprooted and ‘resettled’ in New Villages, or put in concentration camps, there was also a programme of ‘re-education’.
British action in Kenya in the 1950s also showed what British civilisation was prepared to do. At various times over 90,000 ‘suspects’ were imprisoned, in either detention camps or ‘protected villages’. At one point Nairobi (population 110,000) was emptied, with 16,500 then detained and 2,500 expelled to reserves. Assaults and violence, often to the point of death, were extensive. As in Malaya, ‘rehabilitation’ was one of the goals of the operation. More than 1000 people were hanged, using a mobile gallows that was taken round the country. Overall, maybe 100-150,000 died through exhaustion, disease, starvation and systematic brutality.
Recent revelations in The Guardian (12/11/5) concerned a secret torture centre, the “London Cage”, that operated between July 1940 and September 1948. Three houses in Kensington were used to interrogate some 3500 German officers, soldiers and civilians. Still in use for three years after the end of the war, interrogation included beatings, being forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours, threats of execution or unnecessary surgery, starvation, sleep deprivation, dousings with cold water etc. “In one complaint lodged at the National Archives, a 27-year-old German journalist being held at this camp said he had spent two years as a prisoner of the Gestapo. And not once, he said, did they treat him as badly as the British.”
There is a continuity in the British state’s actions. The Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the ‘London Cage’ received an OBE for his interrogation work in the First World War. In the 1950s there were reports of Britain experimenting with drugs, surgery and torture with a view to designing techniques that would be effective but look harmless. In the 1970s thousands of army officers and senior civil servants were trained to use psychological techniques for security purposes. Inevitably, the truth about current activities is not in the public domain.
In general, British democracy has been better than others at concealing the brutal way its state functions. Anything that is exposed is denied or dismissed as being an isolated excess. In France the extensive use of torture in the war in Algeria was publicised as part of a battle between different factions of the colonial aparatus. Victims had hoses inserted in their mouths and their stomachs filled with water, electrodes were put on genitals, heads were immersed in water. During the Battle of Algiers 3-4000 people ‘disappeared’: fatal victims of French torture techniques.
Although France, and more recently the US in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, have been less successful than Britain in keeping their actions under wraps, all these “democracies” use the most brutal methods of interrogation and detention. They also learn from each other’s activities, most notably in Vietnam, where the US drew on British experience in Malaya as much as earlier French experience in Indo-China.
In the first ever public hearing, Europe’s human rights court examined Poland’s role in CIA ‘black site’ prisons and torture of suspects.
Lawyers of two terror suspects currently held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, accused Poland of abuse during Tuesday’s hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The hearing examined claims that Warsaw allowed the CIA to operate a jail for suspected terrorists, who were tortured, in Stare Kiejkuty, a remote village in north-east Poland.
Both suspects said at the hearing that they were brought to Poland in December 2002 with the knowledge of the Polish authorities.
Poland declined to reveal to the court any information saying that it could compromise a separate investigation by Polish prosecutors, and because the court could not guarantee the information would be kept confidential.
“The government does not wish to confirm or deny the facts cited by the applicants,” said Artur Nowak-Far, Under-Secretary of State in the Polish foreign ministry.
The Polish investigation has gone on for five years without an outcome. Polish authorities have never disclosed the investigation’s terms or scope, while human rights groups have accused Warsaw of deliberately postponing the investigation.
The UN Committee Against Torture has criticized the “lengthy delays” and said that it was “also concerned about the secrecy surrounding the investigation and failure to ensure accountability in these cases.”
The lawyers of the two detainees said that the evidence of torture presented to the judges at the hearing will make it harder for the Polish government to close its eyes to the case.
“A really strong and compelling case has been put here, so in that sense the hearing was very encouraging,” said lawyer Helen Duffy, on behalf of Interrights, a human rights group, Reuters reported.
The ECHR is to take several months before issuing a ruling, while no further hearings have been scheduled.
The CIA’s post 9/11 extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs are believed to have involved up to 54 foreign governments which aided the US in its operations in a variety of ways. This included hosting CIA black sites on their territories, detaining, interrogating and torturing suspects, allowing the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, and providing intelligence which aided efforts to the detain and rendition individuals.
American lawmakers have never said where the ‘black site’ prisons were based, but intelligence officials, aviation reports and human rights groups said they included Afghanistan and Thailand as well as Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
Investigators believe a military base in north-eastern Poland was the location of one of the CIA secret prisons between December 2002 and September 2003.
Former US President George W. Bush first acknowledged the secret prisons in 2006 after numerous media reports on the issue. He ordered their closure and announced that many of the detainees would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The two detainees – Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent and a Palestinian, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah – claim that they were waterboarded at the Polish facility during the interrogations. Currently, the two detainees are held under ultra-secure conditions in a section of Guantanamo known as Camp 7 according to a declassified report released in 2009.
The largest criminal organizations in the world are governments. The bigger they are, the more capable of perpetrating atrocities. Not only do they obtain great wealth through compulsion (taxation), they also have an ideological mystique that permits them uniquely to get away with murder, torture, and theft.
The U.S. government is no exception. This is demonstrated by, among many other things, the atomic bombings of noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World II. But let’s examine a lesser-known case, one we might know nothing about were it not for David Vine, who teaches anthropology at the American University. Vine has written a book, Island of Shame, and a follow-up article at the Huffington Post about the savage treatment of the people of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Americans may know Diego Garcia as a U.S. military base. It “helped launch the Afghan and Iraq wars and was part of the CIA’s secret ‘rendition’ program for captured terrorist suspects,” Vine writes.
What’s not widely known is that the island was once home to a couple of thousand people who were forcibly removed to make room for the U.S. military. The victims’ 40-year effort to return or to be compensated for their losses have been futile.
Great Britain claims the island. According to Vine, African slaves, indentured Indians, and their descendants had been living on the Chagos islands for about 200 years. “In 1965, after years of secret negotiations, Britain agreed to separate Chagos from colonial Mauritius (contravening UN decolonization rules) to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a secret 1966 agreement, Britain gave U.S. officials base rights on Diego Garcia.”
But it did more than that. Britain “agreed to take those ‘administrative measures’ necessary to remove the nearly 2,000 Chagossians in exchange for $14 million in secret U.S. payments.”
The British kept their end of the bargain. In 1968, Britain began blocking the return of Chagossians who left to obtain medical treatment or to go on vacation, “marooning them often without family members and almost all their possessions,” Vine writes.
British officials soon began restricting food and medical supplies to Chagos. Anglo-American officials designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one British bureaucrat said, “maintaining the fiction” that Chagossians were migrant laborers rather than a people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. Another British official called them “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays.”
Then, in 1971, the final order came down, reminiscent of a Russian czar expelling Jews from their village. “The U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, issued … a three-word memo.… ‘Absolutely must go.’”
British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships. During the deportations, which took place in stages until May 1973, most Chagossians slept in the ship’s hold atop guano — bird crap. Prized horses stayed on deck. By the end of the five-day trip, vomit, urine, and excrement were everywhere. At least one woman miscarried.
Arriving in Mauritius and the Seychelles, Chagossians were literally left on the docks. They were homeless, jobless, and had little money, and they received no resettlement assistance.
Remember, this was happening, not in the 18th or 19th century, but in the late 20th century. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the last of the expulsions.
The personal toll has been great. The Chagossians remain poor, and many suffer from illnesses traced to their dispossession. “Scores more Chagossians have reported deaths from sadness and sagren,” or “profound sorrow,” according to Vine.
Five years ago the Chagossians had some ray of hope when three British courts declared the deportations illegal. But the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overruled the lower courts. “Last year,” Vine adds, “the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the Chagossians’ final appeal on procedural grounds.…”
“A day after the European court ruling, the Obama administration rejected the demands of an online petition signed by some 30,000 asking the White House to ‘redress wrongs against the Chagossians.’”
The British were adequately looking after the matter, the administration said.
Here is government in all its glory.
- Shame, Lies and Secrecy on Diego Garcia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
NEW YORK – In a historic ruling, the European Court of Human Rights today condemned Macedonia’s illegal transfer of Khaled El-Masri into CIA custody and found that his abusive treatment at Macedonia’s airport by the U.S. rendition team “amounted to torture.” The court also found that his abduction and detention – including the time he was in U.S. custody – constituted “enforced disappearance” under international law.
“Today’s landmark decision is a stark reminder of America’s utter failure to hold its own officials accountable for serious violations of both U.S. and international law. Continued lack of accountability is turning the United States into an outlier among its European allies, which is an appalling outcome for a nation that prides itself as a global leader on the rule of law and human rights,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. “Today’s ruling makes it harder for the United States to continue burying its head in the sand and ignoring domestic and global calls for full accountability for torture. This remarkable decision will no doubt put greater pressure on European nations to fully account for their complicity in cooperating with the illegal CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, and to hold responsible those who violated the human rights of El-Masri and those like him.”
El-Masri is a German citizen who in 2003 was mistaken for another person and abducted by Macedonian authorities at a border crossing and held incommunicado for 23 days. He was then handed over to CIA operatives who put him on a secret flight to a “black site” in Afghanistan where he was secretly held, tortured and abused for about four months.
The ACLU currently represents El-Masri in a case against the U.S. now being considered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and also represented him in a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, which was dismissed. His case before the ECHR was brought by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
In a unanimous decision awarding El-Masri 60,000 Euros, the European court said that the court “underlines the great importance of the present case not only for the applicant and his family, but also for other victims of similar crimes and the general public, who had the right to know what had happened… The concept of ‘State secrets’ has often been invoked to obstruct the search for the truth. State secret privilege was also asserted by the US government in the applicant’s case before the US courts.”
The court’s ruling is available at:
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; firstname.lastname@example.org
- CIA ‘tortured and sodomised’ terror suspect, European court rules (guardian.co.uk)
Thousands of veterans of Britain’s atomic and hydrogen bomb tests are to take the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing it of exposing them to radiation.
Over 1,000 victims of UK’s nuclear tests, which were carried out in the South Pacific in the 1950s, will ask Europe to intervene, as the British premier David Cameron ignores the terms of the Military Covenant and courts ban hearings into their cases.
Servicemen, who were ordered to witness nuclear bomb tests in the South Pacific, have since suffered cancers and rare medical conditions, with their children suffering from leukemia and birth defects.
Describing the news as “brilliant,” widow Shirley Denson, whose RAF ace husband was ordered to fly through mushroom clouds at Christmas Island in 1958, said, “This is one of our final chances to appeal for the right to present our case.”
“We have tried for 30 years to be heard, and every time the MoD has denied there is anything wrong with us. Now we have vital scientific evidence, and they say we have left it too late,” she added.
Earlier on May, Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown also criticized the MoD for trying to evade its responsibility for cleaning up the radioactive waste contamination from old military bases and factories.
According to a survey conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), the number of contaminated sites across England and Wales was far higher than previously estimated.
A German citizen, who says was abducted in Macedonia by the CIA and taken to a prison in Afghanistan and tortured, has demanded justice from Europe’s human rights court.
Khaled El-Masri of Lebanese descent says he was brutally tortured and interrogated at a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for more than four months after being kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, the Associated Press reported.
On Wednesday, Masri took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Mr. El-Masri has spent the last eight years seeking legal redress for the crimes that were committed against him,” said James Goldston, who is the executive director of the Open Justice Initiative, a rights group that campaigns against the US extraordinary rendition practice.
Extraordinary rendition is a practice enabling the US apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another.
He noted, “There is abundant evidence, including data on CIA flights to and from [Macedonia's capital] Skopje.”
Masri was eventually released after the CIA realized it had mistaken him for another suspect.
He is also suing the Macedonian government for its role in the kidnapping, an accusation that the authorities in Skopje deny.
The court will consider whether Macedonian agents actually kidnapped Masri, and, if they did, whether they knew what would happen to him after they handed him over to US authorities.
The family of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen who has been held without charge or trial for eight years, have said they will appeal the ruling on his extradition to the US over terrorism charges.
The family members of Ahmad promised to fight his extradition, after the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that he and four others can be transferred to the US.
The family of the 36-year-old computer expert said in a statement that they were “very disappointed” by the court’s ruling and asked the British authorities to try Ahmad in the UK.
“Babar is a British citizen accused of a crime said to have been committed in the UK and all the evidence against him was gathered in this country,” the statement read.
“Nevertheless, British justice appears to have been subcontracted to the US. This should be immediately rectified by putting Babar on trial in the UK and ordering a full public inquiry into the matter.”
The US officials have accused Ahmad of fundraising for terrorists. He has been held pending extradition since 2004, reportedly the longest time a British national has been detained without trial in modern times.
He was first arrested at his home in 2003 by London’s Metropolitan Police. He said he was the victim of a sustained and brutal assault by officers who intended to humiliate him and make him fear for his life.
Amna Ahmad, Babar’s sister, voiced her concerns over what would happen to his brother’s mental health if he was extradited to the US.
“I’m worried that if he’s sent across to the United States firstly they’ll hold him in solitary confinement pre-trial like they did to Chris Tappin, they’ll probably be worse on Babar than they are to Chris Tappin,” she said.