Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just Another British Torture Sanctuary?

[Image: An aerial photograph of Rawalpindi showing the interrogation centre. Photograph: Getty Images, via The Guardian.]

Well, it looks like we have another clandestine room to file away in the emerging architecture of the War on Terror’s pantheonic library of secret military spaces. A few days ago the Guardian reported that a secret interrogation center had been discovered in Pakistan, specifically in the Saddar district of Rawalpindi. The site, unsurprisingly, is “surrounded by high walls and watchtowers,” and “bristl(es) with surveillance cameras.” It is, however, notorious enough that so far local photographers have not dared to take any photos of it.
The site is run by the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who has been accused of meddling in foreign affairs with Afghanistan through its own connections with terrorist groups there.
Interestingly enough, this site has come to light as a depot for British terrorism suspects, not Arab suspects, who allege they were tortured there after UK authorities had them arrested.
It’s been brewing in the British media for months, British terrorist suspects claiming they've been abused in this Pakistan detention facility while British military and other UK officials had previously interviewed them and merely stood by. Detainees who have since been released from this place claim that M15 agents (the UK’s national security service) “instigated the torture of British citizens or, at very least, turned a blind eye to their mistreatment.”

[Image: The London headquarters of MI5. Photograph: Frank Baron, via The Guardian.>]

So, which intelligence agency are we accusing of what, exactly?
Regarding the facility itself, one of the released suspects said this:
(He) “was one of several prisoners kept in an underground block of 10 small cells, each with a mattress and a pillow. The torture, he says, took place nearby in a carpeted room with bright overhead lights, a table, several chairs and a small wooden stool where prisoners were expected to sit. In one corner of the room was a camera. He says that sometimes he would be hooded and driven for 20 minutes to meet two MI5 officers; on other occasions they would question him in the room where he had been tortured.”
However, another equally curious and nefarious dimension to the cloaks of secrecy surrounding this site is how the British Foreign Office has responded to questions about their role in the interrogations taking place there, and how it's assumed that with the M15’s presence there they certainly must have known British citizens were being tortured.
Asked about this failure, the Foreign Office said it could not act for British citizens of joint British-Pakistani nationality, as the authorities in Islamabad regarded them as being only Pakistani.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the south Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "I find it worrying that the British high commission has sought refuge behind the dual citizenship clause when it knows that the detainee's life may be in danger and that the detention is illegal under Pakistani, British and international law."
So, the Pakistani interrogation center, in conjunction with this dual nationality technicality, becomes a sanctuary for British authorities to deny accountability and to essentially shield themselves from any ethical responsibility of their own. It’s just totally fascinating to me how a given site could serve this dual purpose. On one hand, acting as a literal space of torture, while on the other as a kind of abstract political shelter for an insidious observant form of indirect participation in torture. I wonder, which came first: the facility, the M15's presence, and then the dual nationality card, or was this political shielding first determined and then used to open up a way for the UK's involvement in these arrests and interrogations?

Anyway, more on all of this here:

MI5 agents and torture abroad
MI5 accused of colluding in torture of terrorist suspects
Torture Space: Architecture in Black


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