British Rendition Process “Worse than Guantanamo”
Britain has a rendition and detention process in place that is worse than the US system says Clive Stafford Smith of the human rights group Reprieve
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
Advocates and activists say that civil and human rights are being eroded in the U.K., and in some respects Guantanamo is a marked improvement on the British Justice System. That is a disturbing conclusion of our next guest, veteran human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.
In his recent article for the Gazette of the Law Society of England and Wales, Clive argues that the once paramount features of the rule of law in the U.K., such as the right to a fair and public trial, are being eroded to a frightening extent.
In his piece titled, “Secrets and Lies,” Clive describes the story of two innocent men, kidnapped, tortured and detained for at least 10 years without a trial, and their attempt to seek justice in the U.K. court system. These men are currently being forced to endure secret court proceedings in which their legal representation cannot collaborate with their clients on a defense strategy.
And joining us now to discuss this case, and the alarming decline of the rule of law within the United Kingdom, is Clive Stafford Smith. Clive is the founder and Director of Reprieve, an organization of human rights defenders who provide free legal and investigative support to those facing state sanctioned execution, rendition, torture, and extra judicial imprisonment, and killing.
Clive is joining us today from New York. Clive, welcome to The Real News.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: My pleasure.
KIM BROWN: So, Clive your article takes a look at the cases of two men who suffered torture, rendition and a decade of detention without trial. You then go on to describe how their case is being heard in secret, where they are being represented by a special advocate who cannot even consult with them.
So, can you please explain for our audience the background of this case, and why you’ve argued that, “open justice was a casualty of 9/11” and how you can compare the U.K. justice system to that in Guantanamo.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, yes, certainly. I mean let me say first that I’ve been to Guantanamo Bay 36 times, representing prisoners down there. It’s not exactly my Caribbean resort of choice. But, there are things about that process that are utterly dreadful. And it’s really pretty surprising and shocking to discover that in some ways the British system’s worse.
So, what happened in this case? Well, these two guys Amanatullah Ali, and Yunus Rahmatullah, were seized by the British in Iraq, and the British then abused them when they were captured, then sent them over to the U.S., and at least one of them went to Abu Ghraib. Then they were both rendered to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, which is really Guantanamo’s evil twin sister. It’s worse than Guantanamo.
And they spent 10 years there with no trial, no charges, no nothing. Now, through this the British Government was being a bit sanctimonious and saying, “Oh, you know, we don’t do this rendition and torture stuff.” And then I was in Pakistan, and I met a man, Amanatullah Ali’s brother, and he said, “I don’t know what my brother’s doing in Bagram, he’s just a harmless rice farmer, and rice trader.”
And the more I looked into it, the more it was clear that that’s what had happened. He’s just guy who is a rice trader, who had been in Iran, and after Saddam was overturned, it was the first time that Muslim people could go very often to Iraq, to the many holy places in Iraq. And he’d gone there as part of a holy visit, but the British got him.
And it became clear that the British thought that he was a leader of Lashker-e-Taiba, which is a Sunni extremist organization that’s mainly focused on Kashmir. And he clearly isn’t. He’s got nothing to do with extremism, and he’s got nothing to do with any Sunni group whatsoever. We couldn’t work out why the British government was so wrong. And the British government kept repeating that he was a bad dude. And it was only when we got him out of there that we finally discovered what had happened.
And what had happened was this, Amanatullah had been going to Saudi Arabia, and he’d had his passport confiscated because I think he probably didn’t pay the right the bribes to the right person to get the right visa. So, he didn’t have a passport. He couldn’t do his work as a rice trader, so he did what many people do in Pakistan, which is he slipped a few dollars to someone and got another passport.
Now, unfortunately they gave it to him in the name of Ahmad Dilshad(?) which was the name of this guy who’s an extremist leader. But it had all the details wrong on it. And the British got the wrong end of the stick, and decided that he was this guy. And that’s why he’s spent 10 years in this awful place, being tortured in dreadful ways.
And all we’re trying to do is to establish what the British did, and get them to say, the very simple words, “I’m sorry.” Which is so hard to get government people to say. So, that’s where we are. And then we end up in this dreadful secret court system.
KIM BROWN: So, when we talk about what this man endured… First of all, how long has it been since he was in custody at Bagram Air Force Base?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: He’s only been out for about a year. And, of course, you get kicked out of those places just like you do Guantanamo Bay, without an apology, without anything. You don’t even get the, sort of, $10 bus ticket. And so, he’s left to try to overcome 10 years of torture with absolutely no help from anybody. And certainly we, at Reprieve, try to help people under those circumstances, because that’s the very least we can do.
KIM BROWN: So, has there been any sort of criminal prosecutions for the torture of this man. Has he been able to… have they compensated, in some way, for the years that he lost, and certainly what he endured while he was in custody?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: One of the extraordinary things about the law, and I apologize — as an American lawyer for some of the dreadful rules that we have — is that if you’re a government official, and you go around torturing people in Guantanamo Bay or Bagram, you pretty much get immunity for what you do.
I mean, it’s an extraordinary rule, isn’t it, that a government official can engage in something that is an international crime, and have no consequences. So, certainly no one’s been prosecuted. In terms of compensation, we have sued the British to get him compensation, and this is where they tip him into this secret court system. And it’s a system that they call a Closed Material Procedure.
And what they mean by that is that the judge is in there in a secret room, with a bunch of Secret Service people, no doubt, but we don’t know ’cause I’m allowed there. And the only person who can speak for my client is what they call a ‘special advocate.’ And he’s a barrister with one of those ridiculous English wigs, and they’re not allowed to talk to the clients.
So, they’re in there, supposedly representing someone who they never met, they’re not allowed to talk to him. If the government makes some whopping lie up, they can’t come back to the client and say, “Is this true?” So, it’s really an astounding system. And when you think of what we criticize the Soviet Union for; it strikes me that this is pretty bizarre that Britain has this sort of system in this day and age.
KIM BROWN: So, the British government denied for years that they had any involvement whatsoever in rendition and torture, so how could the judge, in this case, taken the government’s position at face value, given their history of lying?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, it’s extraordinary. And we’ve got at least 12 government ministers who have made public statements that we can categorically prove to be false. And one can only assume that the government ministers have been misled by MI6, which is the British Intelligence Service. And so, you have this dread of lies, and yet they want to cover up the cover up in a secret court. And to me this very much is the British Watergate.
Obviously I don’t have to tell you that the big deal with Richard Nixon was, not so much what happened in Watergate, it was the lies and the cover up that came along afterwards. And the fact that to this day they’re still lying about this whole rendition, kidnap, torture process, is really the biggest deal to me.
KIM BROWN: Clive Stafford Smith is joining us today. He is the Founder and Director of Reprieve, which is an organization of human rights defenders, who provide free legal and investigative support to those facing state sanctioned execution, rendition and torture.
We’re talking about the case of two men who were held for a period of 10 years without trial, without consult from their legal representation, and why this is completely legal, at least in the eyes of the British Government.
Stick around for part two of our conversation right here on The Real News Network.
KIM BROWN: Welcome back to part two of our conversation with Clive Stafford Smith. He is the founder and co-director of Reprieve, and we’ve been discussing the case of two men who were detained for a period of 10 years at Bagram Air Force Base by British authorities. During this time they endured torture, rendition, and so far, they have not been compensated at all for the treatment that they received.
So, Clive, I wanted to ask you about the case of the U.K. Supreme Court. They held a decision that secret trials are an affront to the rule of law and democracy itself. So, how could the government have so easily changed the law with such a damning decision from the highest court?
And were these changes made to the law post 9/11, or were these things that were already existing in the rule of law, in the U.K.?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: All of this stuff is new. It’s all come in the wake of 9/11. And, to my mind, even though … the whole torture business is dreadful, dreadful. Actually, the thing we have to be most worried about post 9/11 is secrecy. Because what the government of both Britain, and the U.S. are trying to do is cover up the misconduct. And if we don’t know what they did, how are we doing to learn the lessons to make sure it doesn’t happen again? So, these rules are recent.
Now the problem in Britain, as contrasted to America, is that there is no constitution in the United Kingdom. So, when the government wants to do something awful, they pass the law, and unless the court strikes it down under the European Human Rights Convention, there’s really no challenge to it. And even when they do, there is no binding authority in the ECHR.
So, when we got Guantanamo I actually drew up, with two colleagues, the very first case against Guantanamo, Rasul vs. Bush, and the U.S. Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional in the end. And that’s based on the United States Constitution, which is a wonderful, wonderful document.
The problem, in Britain we don’t have that. So, if the parliament does something awful, the courts basically may have to stick with it.
KIM BROWN: If I understand this correctly, the right to a jury trial in serious cases in England, and in Wales is no longer guaranteed. We have also seen the loss of the absolute right to silence as a defendant without prejudice.
The laws of so-called double jeopardy protection, and to what extent do you see so-called emergency laws, and emergency powers, simply becoming the new normal?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, liberty is always eroded at the margins, and it’s always when we’re focused on someone we hate. I’ve spent my entire career representing people primarily on death row, and now some of the Muslim people who society loves to hate. And it’s in those cases that we take away legal rights, because everyone says, “Ah, that’s great. We hate them anyhow.”
So, what happened in Britain with the right to remain silent was, it was over Irish people with the IRA, they were terrorists, we said. So, we took away their right to remain silent. No one squealed about that because they were Irish terrorists. And it wasn’t long before we’d done it for everybody, same sort of thing’s true on double jeopardy.
So, now in Britain, if you’ve been acquitted, if you’ve been found not guilty of a criminal offence, and then the government wants to try you again because they think they’ve got new evidence, they can get away with that. This is deeply disturbing. And it’s what I’ve spent my entire career fighting, and it’s what Reprieve is all about. It’s trying to preserve the legal rights of everybody.
‘Cause in this war on terror, or war of terror, as Borat calls it, if the first casualty is the very rule of law that we purport stand up for, then we might as well just chuck it in and surrender right now, mightn’t we?
KIM BROWN: That brings me to my next point here, Clive. The British Human Rights and criminal defense barrister, Baroness Helena Kennedy, she once wrote that, “Rights once lost are next to impossible to regain.”
So, to what extent do you see the current development as the beginning of the end of rule of law as we have known it?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, I love Helena; she’s a wonderful, wonderful lawyer in Britain, and I have the greatest respect for her. I don’t agree with that though. I think if you look at the history of the development and evolution of human rights, it’s been a history of a progress towards more human rights. There was no such thing as human rights 60 years ago, and yet we now very much have that in our blood.
So, I think we very much have to defend against these incremental challenges to the rules we’ve established. But, at the same time, they’re not lost forever. They’re only lost forever if decent people don’t stand up, and fight to regain them. And, if we do, we’re going to win, because, frankly, we’re right and they’re wrong.
KIM BROWN: We have been joined today with Clive Stafford Smith. Clive is the founder and co-director of Reprieve, which is an organization of human rights defenders who provide free legal and investigative support to those facing state sanctioned execution, rendition, torture, extra judicial imprisonment, and extra judicial killings.
His new article titled, “Secrets and Lies”, it can be found in the Gazette of the Law Society of England and Wales. He’s been joining us today from New York City.
Clive, we appreciate your time and your expertise today. Thank you very much.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Thank you.
INTER: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.