Workers Vanguard No. 939
3 July 2009
War on Terror Targets Immigrants, Workers
Binyam Mohamed, British Imperialism and Torture
The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 206 (Spring 2009), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
Since the time of his arrest in Pakistan in April 2002, Binyam Mohamed has been chained, beaten, slashed with scalpels, sleep deprived, held for weeks on end in darkness and hauled from one prison to the next, from Pakistan to Morocco to Afghanistan. Caged at Guantánamo Bay for the past four years, he was finally released and arrived back in Britain on February 23. There has never been a shred of evidence against him of any crime. Mohamed’s U.S. military-appointed lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, told a press conference that his treatment “would make waterboarding seem like child’s play” (Guardian Unlimited, 11 February).
As Mohamed courageously exposes his torture at the hands of the CIA and their stooges and pursues legal actions in British and U.S. courts, the complicity of the British state in his “rendition” and torture is being dragged into the light of day. “We unreservedly condemn any practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ to torture. We have always condemned torture,” proclaimed the Foreign Office (Independent, 10 March), while the whole world can observe the bloody fingerprints of MI5 all over the story of Binyam Mohamed. A special UN report issued on 9 March named Britain as among countries that have aided the U.S. “through providing intelligence or seizing suspects” (BBC News online, 10 March). The report says, “UK intelligence personnel, for instance, conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq” (independent.co.uk, 10 March).
Having fled Ethiopia in 1992 as a teenager, Mohamed sought asylum in Britain and was eventually granted legal right to remain. He was swept up by the U.S. “anti-terror” frenzy while travelling in Pakistan a few months after 9/11 and interrogated by MI5 there before being “rendered” by the CIA to a prison in Morocco. During 18 months there he was tortured by his U.S.-instructed interrogators who repeatedly slashed his chest and genitals with a scalpel. The Americans were bent on extracting Mohamed’s confession to a web of “terror” crimes including a nuclear “dirty bomb” plot. They claimed he conspired in the bomb plot with Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped in 2002 by the U.S. government, framed and tortured as a “terror suspect.” “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” Mohamed told the Mail on Sunday (8 March). “I confessed to it all.” In January 2004 he was again moved, to the CIA prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, where his tortures included being chained, able to neither stand fully nor sit, for eight days continuously.
“The very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence,” said Mohamed (Guardian Unlimited, 23 February). According to his attorneys from the civil rights law group Reprieve, in one memo disclosed in U.S. court hearings, MI5 told the CIA: “We believe that our knowledge of the UK scene may provide contextual background useful during any continuing interview process” (Guardian, 9 March). It continues, “This will place the detainee under more direct pressure and would seem to be the most effective way of obtaining intelligence on Mohamed’s activities/plans concerning the UK.” The government’s attempt to cover up British support to torture failed when it was exposed that foreign secretary David Miliband blocked the release of 42 secret documents necessary to Mohamed’s habeas corpus case (challenging his detention) in the courts. According to the Guardian website (16 February), Miliband’s office “solicited a letter from the US state department to back up his claim that if the evidence was disclosed, Washington might stop sharing intelligence with Britain. The claim persuaded the high court judges to suppress what they called ‘powerful evidence’ relating to Mohamed’s ill-treatment.”
Revelations of British participation in torture predictably elicit “shocked” calls for investigations from all quarters. Behind such calls lies panic that British “democracy” is besmirched by the torture revelations. Just as the Obama regime is charged by the U.S. bourgeoisie with the task of restoring the myth of mass-murdering American imperialism as upholder of “human rights,” elements of the British bourgeoisie need the moral credibility of British imperialism whitewashed, and fast. A spokesman for Human Rights Watch, speaking after British defence secretary John Hutton publicly admitted that Britain has handed over “terror suspects” in Iraq to the U.S., said: “The drip, drip of allegations and admissions does huge damage to the international reputation of the UK and the ability of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to say they are fighting on the side of justice and truth” (Guardian, 27 February).
But from the Indian subcontinent to its African colonies, from the occupation of Palestine after World War I to Iraq today, British imperialism, under both Tory and Labour governments, has always used torture, an indispensable tool for the subjugation of a people. In Northern Ireland, Republican prisoners interned without trial were routinely tortured by the RUC: hooded, beaten, forced to run obstacle courses over broken glass. Thousands died from starvation and torture in British concentration camps during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s. As Seumas Milne wrote in the Guardian (27 January 2005), British soldiers “nailed the limbs of Kikuyu guerrillas [in Kenya] to crossroads posts and had themselves photographed with the heads of Malayan ‘terrorists’ in a war that cost 10,000 lives.... Britain’s empire was built on vast ethnic cleansing, enslavement, enforced racial hierarchy, land theft and merciless exploitation.”
In Germany between 1945 and 1947, Britain ran a secret torture camp at Bad Nenndorf where suspected communists as well as Nazi and SS prisoners were beaten, starved and frozen—evidence of which was buried in government files until 2005 when the Guardian secured a report on the torture centre under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of the subsequently released photos showed suspected communists whom the British tortured in their efforts to obtain information about Soviet military plans.
Another form of torture continues today within Britain against 15 Muslim men among those rounded up and interned as suspected “terrorists” after 9/11. They cannot legally be deported and in 2004 were ordered released from Belmarsh prison on “control orders.” Introducing her article “Besieged in Britain” (Race & Class, January 2009), Victoria Brittain describes their shattered lives:
“Held for years without charge, under restricted regimes of twelve to twenty-four hour curfews, with virtually no access to the wider world and kept in ignorance of the alleged evidence against them, the impact on them and their families has been devastating. Many had come to Britain as refugees seeking a safe haven; some have been driven into madness, some have attempted suicide, some have left their families and returned voluntarily to regimes where they may face imprisonment and torture. The mental and physical health impacts on the men and their families, of an inhumanity that beggars belief, masked under the bureaucracy of ‘control orders,’ ‘SIAC deportation bail’ and torturous legal processes, is here unveiled.”
Trade Unions Must Oppose the “War on Terror”
The capitalist state—the core of which is cops, courts, prisons and armed forces—exists to maintain the property and profits of the bourgeoisie through the suppression of the working class and oppressed. Stigmatising Muslims and immigrants as the “enemy within,” the Labour government has fuelled racism which divides and weakens the working class. In its “war on terror” the government has calculated it can get away with massively augmenting the state’s machinery for repression, and in this it has so far been correct thanks to the cowardly chauvinist leaders of the trade unions. As the organised battalions of the proletariat, the trade unions have the social power to put some teeth into the fight against the racist “war on terror.” But their ability to fight is hampered by the Labourite trade-union leaders whose loyalty to “democratic” British imperialism means they have signed on to the government’s witch hunt and uttered hardly a word, much less led any class struggle, against the gutting of hard won rights going back to the English Civil War.
Defence of minorities against grinding racist oppression must go forward with and as part of the struggles of the organised working class, or both struggles lose ground. And Muslims and other minorities are not just helpless victims, they are an integral part of the working class. The power of the multiethnic proletariat was clear in the August 2005 strike which paralysed Heathrow Airport when British Airways ground crews struck in defence of sacked catering workers, mainly Sikh women. But the TGWU leadership rode to the rescue of the bosses and called off the wildcat strike in deference to the anti-union laws, and the catering workers remained sacked.
The key to unchaining the power of the working class is the forging of a multiethnic revolutionary workers party built through hard political combat against Labourism—a party whose purpose is to take the class forward to power through socialist revolution. Revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order worldwide alone can lay the material basis for ending torture, racist oppression, exploitation and war. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Down with the racist “war on terror”!