Five years on from the London tube bombings, we remain no closer to a full, complete and impartial understanding of the terrible events of that day. Today, the coalition government has demonstrated that it has largely fallen in line with the steps of its predecessor.
The announcement that the government will hold an official inquiry into allegations that the secret service was complicit in torture of 'terror suspects' is, needless to note, welcome. But its arrival on the anniversary of the most devastating attack on London since WW2 is no accident.
While in opposition David Cameron and Nick Clegg both supported the call for an independent public inquiry into the 7/7 terrorist attacks. Yet now that power is theirs, the duo’s coalition regime is challenging the 7/7 inquest’s attempts to explore the “preventability” of the attacks. Three weeks ago, MI5 declared they were now preparing to apply for a judicial review of that decision.
While the government’s underhandedly attempts to quash the only independent inquiry process currently available in the form of the inquest proceedings, Cameron’s much-lauded declaration of a decision to hold an inquiry into the torture allegations has served to eclipse public recollection of the whole 7/7 inquiry issue. Yet the proposed torture inquiry is not designed to involve a meaningful investigation, but has far more to do with damage-control over the pending lawsuits of 12 torture victims suing the intelligence services for official complicity in their torture. Those lawsuits pose the danger of exposing in public hearings the systemic misconduct of the intelligence services with high-level Whitehall approval, through potentially damaging and embarrassing subpoena requests and witness calls.
The official announcement of a torture inquiry follows Cameron’s confirmation yesterday that the government would offer large compensation sums to the 12 claimants on condition that they drop their lawsuits. Meanwhile, the proposed inquiry has been emasculated before even beginning. As the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor reported:
“Cameron yesterday suggested, and government officials made clear, that most of the evidence to the inquiry will be heard in private, and as a non-statutory inquiry, its powers will be limited. ‘It will not establish legal liability, nor order financial settlement,’ Cameron said in a letter to Gibson, published yesterday.
It will not summon witnesses from foreign countries, such as current or former CIA officers. And it will not be able to compel any individuals to give evidence. Last night, Whitehall officials said that former Labour ministers, including Tony Blair, will not be asked to give evidence, even though the treatment of British citizens and residents under investigation happened on their watch.”
The government has also refused to disclose the official guidelines to intelligence officers for handling detainees which applied during the periods detainees were allegedly abused. Instead, it has offered to publish new “consolidated” guidelines, and while simultaneously showing no inclination to properly investigate or even acknowledge the official policy under which British security services oversaw torture.
Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail further points out that the 3 proposed panel members to head the inquiry seem to have been hand-picked for their subservience to the Whitehall establishment, particularly the security services:
“The signs are worrying. Sir Peter is a thoroughly acceptable figure to British spies because he has been Commissioner of the Intelligence Services since 2006, and was reappointed only last year.
Most of his work is carried out away from the public eye, but I have heard no reports of Sir Peter asking probing questions of MI5 and MI6 bosses over the past few years, despite the publication of a mass of troubling material during that period.
A second member of the tribunal, Peter Riddell, is a retired journalist from the Times newspaper who, five years ago, published a book celebrating Tony Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush and the U.S. — by coincidence at almost exactly the moment the worst of the alleged torture abuses were taking place.
Riddell, though a cheerful and popular figure, has never been known for the kind of forensic investigation and harsh scrutiny this inquiry surely requires.
Many will surmise that this is exactly why he was appointed.
Meanwhile the Times, for which Mr Riddell worked for many years, has given only perfunctory coverage to the numerous revelations about British complicity over the past few years.
Though regarded with amiable fondness by senior Whitehall and intelligence figures, Peter Riddell has not yet demonstrated any of the toughness or readiness to challenge the Whitehall establishment this investigation requires.
The third member of the inquiry panel is Dame Janet Paraskeva, the First Commissioner of the Civil Service. She is also head of several quangos: she is chair of the body that hands out billions of Lottery money to Olympic causes, and also chair of the quango which oversees the Child Support Agency.”
Indeed, Gibson has a track record of simply overlooking inconvenient questions when it comes to investigating the intelligence services. As Norton-Tayler points out, under Gordon Brown’s appointment, he investigated “how GCHQ intercept intelligence was shared in the case of the Omagh bombing in August 1998. His report focused on whether the bombing could have been stopped, after the BBC disclosed that GCHQ were monitoring mobiles used in the bomb run. Gibson concluded it could not have been stopped, though he did not investigate the BBC's core allegation: why information from the intercepts was not shared with the CID officers trying to identity the bombers.”
Hardly inspires confidence. Unless, of course, you’re David Cameron, or Nick Clegg, in which case it may very well inspire a whole bucket-load of confidence.
So we have a whitewash torture inquiry in the making and an ongoing crackdown on the integrity of the 7/7 inquest. What is Whitehall trying to hide?
Part of the answer can be found in a brilliant new book by well-known British dissident historian Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: British Collusion with Radical Islam (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2010). The book has been out a week now – unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet – but given Curtis’ previous efforts, this is likely to be yet another tour de force exposing Anglo-American skulduggery. Whereas Curtis’ previous work focused on perusing the declassified official files to explore Britain’s role as “junior partner” in US imperial ambitions to crush nationalist and anti-colonialist resistance movements to the expansion of the emerging 'liberal' order, his latest work focuses squarely on the menace of our times – Islamist terrorism. The gist of his argument, which dovetails with my own work on this issue, is summarised in the opening passage of his Guardian piece published two days ago:
“When the London bombers struck five years ago, many people blamed the invasion of Iraq for inspiring them. But the connection between 7/7 and British foreign policy goes much deeper. The terrorist threat to Britain is partly ‘blowback’, resulting from a web of British covert operations with militant Islamist groups stretching back decades. And while terrorism is held up as the country's biggest security challenge, Whitehall's collusion with radical Islam is continuing... dependence on militant Islamists to achieve foreign policy objectives is an echo of the past, when such collusion was aimed at controlling oil resources and overthrowing nationalist governments.”
Curtis reveals how in the 1950s, Britain flirted with Islamist militants in Iran to facilitate the overthrow of democratically elected Mossadeq, when he challenged Anglo-American corporate hegemony over the country’s oil resources, and covertly financed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood from the 40s through to the 70s to roll-back Egyptian President Nasser’s dangerous brand of pan-Arab nationalism. He also points out more recent episodes – the covert British financing in 1999 of the al-Qaeda-affiliated KLA, complete with one elite KLA unit being commandeered by the brother of bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri; tacit approval of Shi’ite death squads in Iraq; the continuing contradictory alliance with Pakistan despite its being the primary state-sponsor of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. He adds a highly revealing tidbit:
“Militants may be serving other useful functions. The then Foreign Office minister Kim Howells told a parliamentary inquiry in March 2007: ‘At dinners at embassies around the world I have suddenly discovered that somebody happens to be sitting next to me who is from the respectable end of a death squad from somewhere. The ambassador has, with the best will in the world, invited that person along because he thinks that, under the new democracy, they will become the new government.’”
The attitude is, in other words, commonplace – and standard diplomatic practice: Identify potential useful idiots, whether they be militants or terrorists is of no consequence, as long as they might play a role in facilitating British social engineering projects to enforce ‘democracies’ in regions that just happen to be of key strategic significance in terms of geopolitics, resources, and so on.
What we’re seeing today is not the emergence of accountability, as the coalition government had promised, but a return to the age-old imperatives of damage-control, secrecy and the protection of the capacity of the deep state to continue to operate outside the rule of law, in the name of national security.