Former MI5 boss accuses US of hiding torture

Eliza Manningham-Buller said last Tuesday she had not understood why alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been willing to talk to American interrogators. She said she only discovered he had been waterboarded when she read about it after her retirement in 2007.

“I said to my staff, ‘Why is he talking?’ because our experience of Irish prisoners, Irish terrorists, was that they never said anything.

“They said, ‘Well, the Americans say he is very proud of his achievements when questioned about it’.

“It wasn’t actually until after I retired that I read that, in fact, he had been waterboarded 160 times.”

“The Americans were very keen that people like us did not discover what they were doing,” she said in a specially arranged lecture in the House of Lords. The US had been “very keen to conceal from us what was happening.”

She said Britain had lodged “protests” with the Americans about its treatment of detainees, but gave no further details.

Andrew Tyrie comments in The Guardian:

On the first, it seems odd that it did not occur to the security services that Sheikh Mohammed might have been tortured. By the time of his detention, the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation techniques were already the subject of press comment in the US.

As for the protest, the Foreign Office – the BBC has reported – claims it cannot find any details of it. This is consonant with the shoddy record-keeping over the whole rendition issue. We need to know, once the security services did realise the US was using new interrogation tactics, under what guidelines they were operating. The prime minister promised in March 2009 that these would be published. We’ve still not seen them. Furthermore, it is very unsatisfactory that, having known about mistreatment of detainees and having lodged a protest about such treatment, the government still continues to rely on American assurances about rendition.

Let me also quote the Washington Post of 11 March 2002 (U.S. Behind Secret Transfer of Terror Suspects, By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Finn):

“Since Sept. 11, the U.S. government has secretly transported dozens of people suspected of links to terrorists to countries other than the United States, bypassing extradition procedures and legal formalities, according to Western diplomats and intelligence sources. The suspects have been taken to countries, including Egypt and Jordan, whose intelligence services have close ties to the CIA and where they can be subjected to interrogation tactics — including torture and threats to families — that are illegal in the United States, the sources said. In some cases, U.S. intelligence agents remain closely involved in the interrogation, the sources said.”

Iran: Trial in Torture Deaths Begins

Twelve suspects accused of torturing to death three anti-government protesters during the widespread turmoil after the June presidential election went on trial last Tuesday, the official news agency IRNA reported. Iran’s judiciary last year charged 12 officials at the Kahrizak detention center in Tehran for involvement in the deaths of three protesters held there. The IRNA report did not identify any of the suspects, saying the judge had banned reporting details of the trial. In January, a parliamentary inquiry found a former Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, responsible for the deaths of the three at the detention center. There has been no word of any effort to punish him.

UN rights experts urge civilian trials for 9/11 suspects

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to hold civilian trials for accused 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Scheinin called the military commissions system “fatally flawed” and said that reforming the system would not help. Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak also argued that the suspects should face a civilian trial. A White House official said Monday that while a civilian trial for Mohammed may no longer be a realistic option, the Obama administration is working with lawmakers to allow for civilian trials for other suspected terrorists.

It was reported last week that White House advisers are considering recommending that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism. Last month, Holder defended his decision to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court. Holder, who has resisted calls from high-level Republicans to try Abdulmutallab in front of a military tribunal, said that the civilian criminal justice system was capable of handling his trial.

Forbes: Is al Qaeda Bankrupt?

Forbes has an interesting article on Al Qaeda’s finances. Desperate for funds, the terrorist group has turned to affiliates that rely more and more on crime. Some quotes:

While it still relies on individual donations from the Persian Gulf region, these contributions now move outside the formal financial system, through cash couriers and informal money transfer shops known as hawalas. In addition, the network seems to be turning to organized crimes like kidnapping and drug running. The shipment of cocaine from Latin America to Europe is a source of funding.

Fundraising efforts have also embraced new technologies–like the bit of telemarketing by Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, who solicited donations through cell phone recordings that were distributed in 2008. Last June Abu al Yazid, a former al Qaeda money man who now runs its Afghan operations, made his pitch on a Web site controlled by al Qaeda leaders: “If a holy fighter does not have the money to get weapons, food, drink and the materials for jihad, he cannot fight jihad.” The Internet, of course, is a terrorist’s best friend when it comes to recruiting. Not that they’ve given up on old-school methods like extortion. “A broader trend that shows their financial troubles is they are shaking down recruits for money,” says Michael Jacobson, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who specializes in terror financing. A handful of people, arrested in 2008 by French and Belgian authorities, had traveled to Pakistan for al Qaeda training–and were forced to cough up euros for courses, a room and weapons.
(…)
With al Qaeda’s home office no longer able to subsidize operations,  affiliates and cells have turned more frequently to crime. On what  scale? No one knows. Still, law enforcement is taking the issue very  seriously. In January the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan merged its  narcotics and terrorism units. A few weeks earlier the U.S. Drug  Enforcement Administration pulled off a sting operation in Ghana,  snatching three men–Oumar Issa, Harouna Touré and Idriss  Abdelrahman–and shipping them to New York City to face charges of  narco-terror conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda.
(…)
Within the al Qaeda network there is a sharp debate on just how far to  push criminal ventures. Some members have advocated for more illicit  sources of funds, including branching out into piracy. Others within the core of the group argue that criminal activity creates bad p.r. and  erodes the brand within Muslim communities.
(…)
Some counterterror officials see an opportunity in the convergence of  crime and terrorism. They point out that police in most countries are  mobilized to tackle the drug trade, making it more likely that a  terrorist who also runs narcotics will get caught by the cops. But the  flip side is that crime, particularly the rich drug trade, could help  sustain terror groups for years. Farc, a Marxist terror group in  Colombia, has kept itself going for 46 years with the help of profits  from cocaine and kidnapping. A report by James Fearon, a political  science professor at Stanford University, studied 128 civil wars since  1945 and concluded that, on average, civil wars lasted 39 years longer  when insurgent groups were financed by contraband like heroin or  cocaine. Big bucks could spawn truly dire scenarios. “Criminal  syndicates have the organizational and financial wherewithal that could potentially allow them to acquire and sell radioactive materials,” David Johnson, head of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International  Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs, warned in January.

More here.