Sunday, 14 December 2014

Contempt shown to Scotland's legal system during Lockerbie shambles

[The following are excerpts from a column headlined Will torturers be banged to rights? in today’s edition of the Sunday Herald. The columnist is not readily identifiable from the newspaper’s website (though I think I detect the style of Ian Bell):]

I have, as our American friends sometimes say, a dream.

In my little reverie, two of Glasgow's finest one day turn up at the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, and ask to have a word with whoever is claiming to be in charge that week. For the sake of good taste, neither copper will say: "There's bin a torture."

After all, the reality of the allegations involving CIA rendition flights and Scottish airports does not approach even black comedy. The world's most powerful country stands revealed, in a vast report from its own Senate, as a torture state. That's not how America likes to see itself. On this side of the Atlantic, numerous politicians have issued denials of complicity which turn out to be - for how dare we say more? - "untrue". And then there's little Scotland.

Inevitably, the security establishment in the United States - and in London, for that matter - will treat that detail as an actual joke. The contempt shown to Scotland's legal system during the Lockerbie shambles ought to have been evidence enough that in those circles we don't count for much. But the fact does not oblige us to remain silent, not where grotesque violations of human rights and international law are concerned.

Those sleek, mysterious private jets turning up everywhere from Prestwick to Wick were not secrets for long. The CIA's rendition flights, "black sites" and outsourcing of torture when Dick Cheney was pulling the strings for George W Bush were all documented, to a degree, before the Senate set to work. The politicians, in the US, Britain and beyond, simply responded with unrelenting, blanket denials. Legislatures were kept - no pun offered - in the dark. Thus was democracy defended.

This was not a failure of journalism, or of honest politicians. As long ago as 2005, my colleague Neil Mackay was describing the operations of a global torture industry in harrowing detail, telling of 75 flights through Prestwick, almost as many through Glasgow, and of 20 British airports exploited for the trade in "intelligence", most of it - says the Senate - worthless.

Mackay documented the horrific treatment of one individual now named by the committee. Direct British involvement was described. No-one resigned; no-one was arrested. (...)

Police Scotland should be encouraged to ask their questions, starting at home. They should be joined by police the world over. This might prove to ordinary citizens that reasonable questions are too often met by an unreasonable silence, that our safety has now become a permanent excuse for the state within the state.

The advocates of torture, like Cheney, have few justifications now. While democracy is debauched we are left with a just-in-case argument: systematic abuse merely to be on the safe side, to guard against a possibility while reality becomes still more dangerous than before. Yet, ironically (or comically), Britain has a bigger problem than the US. The behaviour of Bush and his crew was more or less known. Our Westminster politicians just lied, time and again.

Sending round a DI and a DC from Police Scotland might not be such a bad idea. If tortured prisoners were on our soil they are, in any sense that counts, on our consciences. Scots law has plenty yet to say about that kind of offence.


  1. MEBO's recommendation: Today, Aljazeera TV > documentary film "an investigation that raises fresh doubts about the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber".
    Today, Sunday, 14th December 2014 > Time 20:00 GMT >>> Link >

  2. The article does indeed have Ian Bell's name (and photograph) attached to it in the print edition.