Torture warnings pushed aside for Britain to join US in ‘war on terror’

The Guardian reports that previously classified documents, disclosed in the UK high court, show that the government was warned repeatedly in January 2002 that British citizens were possibly being tortured after capture by US forces in Afghanistan, that the US was planning to hold some indefinitely without trial, and that British military lawyers were complaining about breaches of the Geneva conventions.

While the heavily redacted documents – released in civil proceedings brought by six former Guantánamo inmates – betray British concern about American conduct, they also appear to show that diplomats, civil servants and government lawyers were anxious to find ways to remain, in the words of Tony Blair, “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the US.

A six-page memo by Tom McKane, a senior official attached to the Cabinet Office, and sent to David Manning, Blair’s senior foreign policy adviser, names three British citizens held in Afghanistan and notes that each was “possibly being tortured in part 3 jail Kabul”. McKane adds that MI5 and MI6 had begun questioning detainees in Afghanistan, and says: “The US has begun transferring detainees they are holding in Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. We have raised no objection in principle to the transfer of UK nationals.”

Four days later, a Foreign Office note to Downing Street says MI5 and MI6 officers have arrived in Guantánamo to question British detainees, and warns: “This will continue to be a difficult issue to handle, both in procedural and legal terms with the US and in handling parliament and the media here.”

At the foot of one of the letters Blair writes:

“The key is to find out how they are being treated. Though I was initially sceptical about claims of torture, we must make it clear to the US that any such action would be totally unacceptable and v quickly establish that it isn’t happening.”

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