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Representatives including Theresa May held 24 meetings with US officials writing CIA report in which UK references were redacted.
Theresa May met members of the Senate committee working on the CIA torture report, according to documents obtained by Reprieve. Photograph: Euan Cherry/Photoshot
Rowena Mason, political correspondent, The Guardian.
The government is under pressure to explain whether UK ministers and officials repeatedly lobbied the US to delete references to British spies from a damning report about CIA torture of detainees in the wake of 9/11.
New documents show that, from 2009, UK government representatives had 24 meetings with members of the US committee that found CIA methods were brutal and ineffective.
Among those who met the committee were the home secretary, Theresa May, the former Labour minister Lord West and the UK’s ambassadors to Washington, according to information obtained by the human rights group Reprieve.
Downing Street has admitted that British spies were granted redactions on “national security grounds” but denies that there was a cover-up.
However, the number of meetings has led to suspicions about a concerted UK lobbying campaign to secure redactions.
The Reprieve spokesman Donald Campbell said: “We already know that the UK was complicit in the CIA’s shameful rendition and torture programme. What we don’t know is why there is no mention of that in the public version of the Senate’s torture report.
“There are important questions which members of the current and the previous governments must answer: did they lobby to ensure embarrassing information about the UK was ‘redacted’ or removed from the report?
He said May and West both met the Senate committee while it was working on its report. “They need to provide clear answers on whether they sought to lobby the committee to keep embarrassing information about the UK out of the public eye.”
In a letter to Reprieve in July, the then foreign secretary, William Hague, said: “The UK government has not sought to influence the content of the Senate report. We have made representations to seek assurance that ordinary procedures for clearance of UK material will be followed in the event that UK material provided to the Senate committee were to be disclosed.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary leading the current scrutiny of UK involvement in torture, acknowledged the redactions could create suspicions but insisted there was no cover-up.
He told the BBC: “I actually had a conversation two days ago with the head of the relevant intelligence agency, and he stated quite categorically what we have now heard publicly: that there were no requests to redact or to conceal anything in the report that referred to any allegations of United Kingdom complicity in the treatment of detainees; that the only redactions that were being requested were with regard to operational matters, which were genuine national security issues. Now, that’s what he has said to us. Of course, as part of our inquiry we will look into that further to be absolutely satisfied.”
On Thursday, a spokesman for David Cameron acknowledged the UK had been granted deletions in advance of the publication, contrasting with earlier assertions by No 10. The spokesman said any redactions were only requested on “national security grounds” and contained nothing to suggest UK agencies had participated in torture or rendition.
However, the admission will fuel suspicions that the report – while heavily critical of the CIA – was effectively sanitised to conceal the way in which close allies of the US became involved in the global kidnap and torture programme that was mounted after the al-Qaida attacks.
On Wednesday, the day the report was published, Cameron’s official spokesman told reporters, when asked whether redactions had been sought, that there had been “none whatsoever, to my knowledge”.
However, on Thursday, the prime minister’s deputy official spokesman said: “My understanding is that no redactions were sought to remove any suggestion that there was UK involvement in any alleged torture or rendition. But I think there was a conversation with the agencies and their US counterparts on the executive summary. Any redactions sought there would have been on national security grounds in the way we might have done with any other report.”
The two main cases relevant to the involvement of Britain’s intelligence agencies related to Binyam Mohamed, a British citizen tortured and secretly flown to Guantánamo Bay, and the abduction of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi, two prominent Libyan dissidents, and their families, who were flown to Tripoli in 2004 where they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
There is no reference at all in the Senate’s 500-page report to UK intelligence agencies or the British territory of Diego Garcia, which is used by the US as a military base. But the executive summary contained heavy redactions throughout, prompting speculation that references to US allies had been erased.
In the wake of the Senate report, the UK government is coming under increasing pressure to order a more transparent inquiry into the actions of MI5 and MI6 amid claims of British complicity in the US torture programme.
Asked about the need for a full public inquiry, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, conceded on Thursday that he was open to the idea if the current investigation by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee leaves remaining questions unanswered. No 10 also suggested Cameron had not ruled this out if the ISC does not settle the torture issue.
The government had initially commissioned an inquiry by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look at the UK’s treatment of detainees after 9/11. However, he only managed a preliminary report raising 27 serious questions about the behaviour of the UK security services, before it was replaced by an investigation handled by the ISC in December last year.
The ISC’s report will not, however, be completed before next year’s election, so it is unclear how many members of the nine-strong panel of MPs and peers will still be in parliament to complete the work.
Report released by Senate after four-year, $40m investigation concludes CIA repeatedly lied about brutal techniques in years after 9/11.
CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. The majority of the 6,000-page classified torture report remains classified. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
Spencer Ackerman in New York, The Guardian.
The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.
After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings. She called the torture program “a stain on our values and on our history”.
“During the brutal interrogations the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated.”
The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to quasi-drowning, staged mock executions, and revved power drills near their heads.
At least 39 detainees, the committee found, experienced techniques like “cold water dousing” – different from the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding – which the Justice Department never approved. The committee found that at least five detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration”, in some cases leading to anal fissures and rectal prolapse. It also found that death threats were made to some detainees. CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” or “cut a detainee’s mother’s throat”.
At least 17 were tortured without the approval from CIA headquarters that ex-director George Tenet assured the Justice Department would occur. And at least 26 of the CIA’s estimated 119 detainees, the committee found, were “wrongfully held”.
Contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a critical role in establishing the torture program in 2002. A company they formed to contract their services to the CIA was worth more than $180m, and by the time of the contract’s 2009 cancellation, they had received $81m in payouts.
The committee’s findings, which the CIA largely rejects, are the result of a four-year, $40m investigation that plunged relations between the spy agency and the Senate committee charged with overseeing it to a historic low.
The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.
CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program.
But Brennan took issue with several of the committee’s findings.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” Brennan said.
“EITs”, or “enhanced interrogation techniques”, is the agency’s preferred euphemism for torture.
Obama banned CIA torture upon taking office, but the continuing lack of legal consequences for agency torturers has led human rights campaigners to view the Senate report as their last hope for official recognition and accountability for torture.
Though the committee released hundreds of pages of declassified excerpts from the report on Tuesday, the majority of the 6,000-plus page classified version remains secret, disappointing human rights groups that have long pushed for broader transparency. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who lost his seat in November, has flirted with reading the whole report into the Senate record, one of the only tactics to compel additional disclosures remaining.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid weighed in to back the report. “Today, for the first time, the American people are going to learn the full truth about torture that took place under the CIA during the Bush administration,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The only way our country can put this episode in the past is to confront what happened.”
“Not only is torture wrong but it doesn’t work,” said Reid. He said torture “got us nothing except a bad name”.
But Republican members of the intelligence committee questioned the report in their own 100-page document. They wrote “procedural irregularities” had negatively impacted the study’s “problematic claims and conclusions” and accused Democrats of bias and faulty analysis.
The Republicans specifically disputed the report’s claim that torture had failed to provide actionable intelligence and claimed “aggressive” interrogation of Zubaydah led to the capture of al-Qaida associates and the disruption of a plot plot aimed at hotels in Karachi, Pakistan, frequented by American and German guests.
In a statement, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said he could not recall a report “as fraught with controversy and passion as this one”.
He said the officers who participated in the program “believed with certainty that they were engaged in a program devised by our government on behalf of the president that was necessary to protect the nation, that had appropriate legal authorization, and that was sanctioned by at least some in the Congress.” But he said “things were done that should not have been done”.
“I don’t believe that any other nation would go to the lengths the United States does to bare its soul, admit mistakes when they are made and learn from those mistakes. Certainly, no one can imagine such an effort by any of the adversaries we face today,” said Clapper.
FILE – In this file photo taken Tuesday May 12, 2009 and reviewed by the U.S. military, a soldier stands guard at the front gate entrance to Guantanamo’s Camp 6 maximum-security detention facility, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. The U.S. government said Sunday Dec. 7, 2014 six men who have been held more than 12 years at Guantanamo Bay have been sent to Uruguay to be resettled as refugees. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
Ben Fox, The Associated Press.
MIAMI (AP) — Six prisoners held for 12 years at Guantanamo Bay have been sent to Uruguay to be resettled as refugees, the U.S. government announced Sunday — a deal that had been delayed for months by security concerns at the Pentagon and political considerations in the South American country.
The six men — four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — are the first prisoners transferred to South America from the U.S. base in Cuba, part of a flurry of recent releases amid a renewed push by President Barack Obama to close the prison.
All were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since 2009 but could not be sent home and the U.S. struggled to find countries willing to take them.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept the men as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established in a country with a tiny Muslim population of perhaps 300 people.
“We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries,” U.S. State Department envoy Clifford Sloan said.
Among those transferred was Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year-old Syrian on a long-term hunger strike protesting his confinement who was at the center of a legal battle in U.S. courts over the military’s use of force-feeding.
The Pentagon identified the other Syrians sent to Uruguay on Saturday as Ali Husain Shaaban, 32; Ahmed Adnan Ajuri, 37; and Abdelahdi Faraj, 39. Also released were Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, 35, and 49-year-old Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi of Tunisia.
Uruguayan officials declined comment Sunday on the transfers. Adriana Ramos, a receptionist at a military hospital in Montevideo, the capital, said the six men were being examined there but declined to provide any details.
Cori Crider, a lawyer for Dhiab from the human rights group Reprieve, praised Mujica, a former political prisoner himself, for accepting the men.
“Despite years of suffering, Mr. Dhiab is focused on building a positive future for himself in Uruguay,” said Crider, who traveled to Montevideo to meet with him and was concerned about his health after his prolonged hunger strike. “He looks forward to being reunited with his family and beginning his life again.”
Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer for Faraj, said he was “deeply grateful” to Uruguay for accepting the prisoner.
“By welcoming our client and the others as refugees and free men, not as prisoners, Uruguay has shown that it truly possesses the courage of its convictions,” Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, said in an interview from Panama.
“We hope that other countries in Latin America and throughout the world will soon follow Uruguay’s example and help put an end to the U.S. government’s shameful practice of indefinite imprisonment without charge or fair process,” he said.
The U.S. has now transferred 19 prisoners out of Guantanamo this year, all but one of them within the last 30 days. Saturday’s move brings the total number of prisoners still at Guantanamo to 136 — the lowest number since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002. Officials say several more releases are expected by the end of the year.
Obama administration officials had been frustrated that the transfer took so long, blaming outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for not approving the move sooner. They said after Mujica had agreed to take the men in January, the deal sat for months on Hagel’s desk, awaiting his signature as required by law. The Pentagon didn’t send the notification of the transfer to Congress until July.
By then, the transfer had become an issue in Uruguay’s political election and officials there decided to postpone it until after the vote. Tabare Vazquez, a member of Mujica’s ruling coalition and a former president, won a runoff election on Nov. 30.
Upon taking office, Obama had pledged to close the prison but was blocked by Congress, which banned sending prisoners to the U.S. for any reason, including trial, and placed restrictions on sending them abroad.
The slow pace of releases has created a tense atmosphere inside the prison. A hunger strike that began in February 2013 totaled about 100 prisoners at its peak, including Dhiab and Faraj.
The U.S. now holds 67 men at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release or transfer but, like the six sent to Uruguay, can’t go home because they might face persecution, a lack of security or some other reason.
Prisoners from Guantanamo have been sent around the world but this weekend’s transfer was the largest group sent to the Western Hemisphere. Four Guantanamo prisoners were sent to Bermuda in 2009 and two were sent to El Salvador in 2012 but have since left.
Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Washington, Leo Haberkorn in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Luis Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
Andrew Nasonov, right, and Igor Bazilevsky, left, getting married in Meridian Hill Park in Washington in October. Photo: Michael Knaapen / AP
The Associated Press.
NEW YORK — Had he stayed in Russia, Andrew Mironov would be settling into a stable job with an oil company, likely with a newly awarded doctoral degree in electrical engineering. Instead, he faces an uncertain future in New York City as one of scores of Russian gays seeking asylum in the United States because of hostility and harassment in their homeland.
Yet the sacrifices have been worth it, the 25-year-old said, given the fears that lingered after he was severely beaten by several assailants in the lobby of a gay bar in his home city of Samara.
“Which is more important: happiness or success?” he asked. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”
There are no firm statistics on the number of gay Russian asylum seekers. U.S. government agencies that handle applications do not report such details. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s latest figures show that overall applications for asylum by Russians totaled 969 in the 2014 fiscal year, up 34 percent from 2012.
The increase is due in part to the worsening anti-gay climate in Russia, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization that provides legal services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants.
The organization says the number of inquiries it received from gay Russians seeking U.S. asylum has risen from 68 in 2012 to 127 in 2013 and 161 through Oct. 30 of this year. During that period, gay-rights gatherings in Russia were frequently targeted by assailants, and the parliament passed a law targeting “gay propaganda” that was widely viewed as a means of deterring gay activism.
To get an application approved, an asylum seeker must present a convincing case that he or she has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country.
Aaron Morris, Immigration Equality’s legal director, said most of the recent asylum inquiries came from gay men in their 20s and 30s who had been targeted by anti-gay attacks.
In several U.S. cities, programs have been launched to assist gay asylum seekers from Russia and elsewhere as they await processing of their applications, which can take six months or more. For the first five months, the asylum seekers are barred from taking paying jobs, so they often struggle to support themselves.
In Washington, D.C., housing is among the major challenges, according to Matthew Corso, who has helped the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community create a program to assist people who are seeking asylum.
Another group aiding gay Russian asylum-seekers in the Washington area is the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, founded in 2011 by Russian immigrant Larry Poltavtsev.
Poltavtsev is frustrated by the rules that bar asylum-seekers from working. “It makes no sense because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” he said.
Soon to join the queue of applicants are Andrew Nasonov and Igor Bazilevsky, longtime partners from the city of Voronezh who wearied of threats, harassment and beatings and came to the United States in July. They’re now assembling the paperwork for their case.
Nasonov, 25, was a journalist and human rights activist in Russia; Bazilevsky, 32, was a graphic designer. They’ve been provided with lodging by a gay couple in a Washington suburb and took a step in October that would have been impossible in Russia — they got married.
“We were finally able to say that we are a real family — there are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are,” Nasonov wrote in an e-mail.
In New York City, many asylum seekers have received advice and support from Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born journalist and activist whose family moved to the U.S. in 1981.
She said her family, as Soviet Jews, had group refugee status, allowing for an immigration process far easier than that faced by today’s asylum seekers who must prove their individual case.
“There’s no worse way to immigrate to the U.S. than the way these people are doing it,” Gessen said. “You have nothing, and you have no right to work or public assistance. We’ve seen people end up on the streets.”
She and her allies have lobbied the State Department to extend refugee status to LGBT people from Russia, but to no avail.
The United States is among several countries favored as havens by LGBT Russians. Canada, Finland and Israel are among the others. Morris, the Immigration Equality lawyer, said his legal team had been able to win approval for most of the Russian asylum cases that it has handled.
Morris commended the Department of Homeland Security for asking Immigration Equality to train its asylum officers on distinctive aspects of LGBT asylum cases. “They understand our community is a little different,” Morris said.
Mikhail Gorbachev, first and last president of the Soviet Union, is defiant at 83 over his role in the breakup of the Soviet Union and its ongoing fallout. Pascal Dumont / MT
Ivan Nechepurenko, The Moscow Times.
Many people who send letters to the first and last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, still write on the envelope: “To the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Kremlin.” The Russian postal service is used to this and redirects the mail to the Gorbachev Foundation, headquartered in a modern building about seven kilometers north of the Kremlin.
Some of those letters are harshly critical of Gorbachev, who is regarded as a traitor by many Russians who regret the demise of the Soviet Union and the shocking economic transformation that followed. Some of the more vitriolic missives even encourage him to commit suicide. But at 83, Gorbachev is defiant and determined.
“I live and will continue to live according to my conscience and principles. Everyone else can go crazy,” he told The Moscow Times in an extensive interview this week.
Despite saying he is “already a part of history,” Gorbachev said he cannot simply observe passively what is happening in Russia today.
“I need to participate, and I will. Nobody will shut my mouth, even though people wanted me to emigrate. I don’t want to leave, let those people leave,” Gorbachev said, banging his hands on the table for emphasis.
Gorbachev, who in recent months underwent treatment at a hospital in Moscow, said he has been reported dead at least 10 times.
“I am called a traitor because I destroyed so many nuclear arms. The second treachery is that we built good relations with the U.S.,” he said.
For those who address their letters to Gorbachev at the Kremlin, time has clearly stood still. And today, when President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the West find themselves at odds once again, the time when secretary generals in the Kremlin were engaged in an ideological rivalry with the West seems closer than ever.
Seeds of Discord
During the festivities marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this month, Gorbachev warned that the world risks a new Cold War. As someone who worked his way up through the Communist Party at a time when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were ready to destroy each other in a nuclear war and who then worked hard to eliminate divisions in Europe and the world at large, Gorbachev is better qualified than most to offer insight into the strikingly similar issues the world faces now.
Today, Gorbachev argues that the problems in Ukraine and the world at large are in part due to errors made during the collapse of the old system.
“What is happening now in Ukraine is in many ways due to the mistakes of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Once they decided to dissolve the union, they should have agreed on territories and borders,” Gorbachev said.
“Crimea was Russian, and most people in Crimea voted in favor of joining Russia [in the recent referendum]. I supported this move from the beginning, and I am half-Ukrainian. I worry about what is happening in Ukraine. … It might not be a scientific fact, but we are the same people,” he said.
Gorbachev believes that the Soviet Union collapsed mainly due to the political self-interest of local leaders — above all, the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who, Gorbachev said, wanted to “get rid” of him.
Gorbachev has never communicated with Yeltsin since. “There was nothing to talk about with this usurper who went behind my back,” Gorbachev said.
Gorbachev says he supports Putin, despite having criticized previously. Pascal Dumont / MT
The Gift of Hindsight
At the same time, Gorbachev does not believe that the Soviet Union should have been preserved in its old form as a repressive state.
“We could not live like we did before, when people would make a joke and find themselves in jail the next day. There were so many problems, but society did not discuss them,” he said.”
“People had been breaking each other’s bones in lines for Italian shoes in our country,” he said.
Gorbachev said the union should have been preserved “with a new essence that would consist of independent sovereign states.”
The West, according to Gorbachev, used the resulting chaos in Russia to its own advantage.
“The West, especially the Americans, applauded Yeltsin. A half-suffocated Russia was ideal for them. Much of the mess we are in today is due to what happened then,” Gorbachev said.
“The main thing is that trust has now been broken. Everybody was losing because of the Cold War, and everybody won when it ended,” he said, referring to the ongoing rift between Russia and the U.S.
The U.S. felt triumphant and justified to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, Gorbachev said.
“It is true that the spirit of these German unification agreements were broken because we agreed that NATO infrastructure would not expand into East Germany, which creates a certain spirit. When they began to accept new countries into NATO in the 1990s. That violated the spirit of the agreements,” he said.
The question of the promise allegedly made to Russia by the West not to expand NATO eastward is often mentioned by Putin in his foreign policy speeches, with NATO expansion used to justify Russia’s actions on the world stage.
Gorbachev said that when he was in office the issue of expansion was not discussed, as Eastern European countries had not signaled any desire to join NATO.
“The main idea was that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would gradually transform from military-political into political organizations,” he said.
“We pledged not to aim to seek military superiority over each other. Is this the case now? No. We destroyed so many weapons, tanks and so forth, and now it is all coming back,” he said.
The tense relations between Russia and the U.S. are also created by certain groups in both countries in favor of confrontation, Gorbachev said.
“There is the same type of public both in the U.S. — including the military-industrial complex that cannot imagine its life without weapons and war — and here in Russia too. Every U.S. president feels obliged to wage a war during his term or, even better, two — as the saying goes. I am serious. It’s not a joke. This idea has survived, and that is very bad.”
Putin the Statesman
Gorbachev, who on Thursday presented his new book about his life after leaving the Kremlin, said he supports Putin and ranks him with the political leaders of his own rule, such as then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“He is a statesman. I can say one thing: Despite all the criticism, I strongly supported him, especially during his first term, because Russia was disintegrating. He has done a lot. I said the president is successful. I criticized him too because you have to criticize leaders,” Gorbachev said.
He accused Putin of saying “what suits him” about the Soviet Union’s collapse, which Putin famously described as the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical tragedy.
“Doesn’t he know how it all happened? He knows, but says what suits him,” Gorbachev said, adding that Putin is currently “under attack” by media that are “not free.”
“There are no free media, either in Russia or the West. Everybody is dependent and works for the benefit of their own states. That is beyond doubt. For instance, I was in a hospital, where I had to do everything as prescribed. This reminds me of the press: It is free, but follows orders,” he said.