The officers involved here stand accused of holding the heads of victims inside a toilet and repeatedly flushing it, as part of their interrogation.
In the Middle Ages, suspected witches were tied to a contraption known as a dunking stool, which would then be lowered into a fast flowing river, lake or large water container, to see if they would float. If able to float, the accused were deemed to be protected by Satan and subsequently killed as a proven witch. If, however, the “witch” drowned, they had obviously not been under Satan’s protective watch, and were therefore innocent. Unfortunately, for the persons concerned, they were already dead.
Allegations revealed in June 2009 that British police officers used water torture on five suspected drug smugglers in an effort to extract information from them suggest that law enforcement authorities in 21st century Britain have failed to learn from the errors of their medieval predecessors — that evidence obtained through torture is completely unreliable. Whether it is hooding, systematic beating, sleep deprivation, electric shock treatment or water dunking, the outcome will always be the same — immorally obtained unreliable evidence.
The officers involved here stand accused of holding the heads of victims inside a toilet and repeatedly flushing it, as part of their interrogation. This was not just the case of officers roughing up some suspects — these officers were imitating a brutal form of water torture utilised in the dungeons of some of the most cruel regimes in the world today.
Water torture is a cheap, simple and chilling method of extracting information by instilling extreme fear and pain without leaving visible marks. Used for over 500 years and known by various names such as “tormenta de toca” during the Spanish Inquisition, “showering” in 19th century prisons, “water cure” in the 20th century and “waterboarding” today, the primary purpose is to induce a drowning effect in the victim and slowly terrify him into making a confession.
While victims will inevitably confess after being subjected to such torture, the reliability of such confessions is a completely different matter. Take, for example, the CIA use of waterboarding on terror suspects such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while he was held in a secret detention facility in Poland. Memos from the US Justice Department reveal that Mohammed was waterboarded a total of 183 times in a single month which, combined with other torture methods, led to his confessing to masterminding the 9-11 attacks “from A to Z” and to being involved in no less than 30 other international terror plots around the world. In addition to confessing to the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, the Bali bombing, the 1993 World Trade Centre attack, and plots to blow up embassies around the world, Mohammed also admitted that he had hatched plans to assassinate former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul II. One wonders whether if Mohammed had been waterboarded just a few more times, he might have confessed to killing John F. Kennedy as well as sinking the Titanic.
This specific method of water torture used by the police — water dunking — has been used against detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. Bosnian ex-detainee Mustafa Ait Idir spoke of how he started to suffocate and feared he would drown when guards placed his face in the toilet and repeatedly pressed the flush button. Britons released from Guantanamo such as Tarek Dergoul and Omar Deghayes, have also spoken of how they were subjected to identical treatment. Deghayes was tortured after objecting to his English language Qur’an being confiscated. Guards rushed into his cell and put him in shackles, despite offering no resistance. His head was then put in the toilet with his face pressed into the water while it was repeatedly flushed.
In light of the above, the current allegations against the officers, if true, are reflective of a far deeper problem with British policing in the post 9-11 world. The victims in this case were not terror suspects, who are routinely tortured. There was no “ticking time bomb”. There were no hostages to be rescued. The men involved were not “enemy combatants”. These were individuals accused of importing cannabis into the UK. Not even heroin or cocaine; simple cannabis.
So why resort to such brutal treatment?
The answer is simple. Ordinary domestic policing in the UK has become infected with the “war on terror” virus whereby methods of interrogation previously considered abhorrent are now deemed legitimate and effective. In the last year alone, a plethora of evidence has emerged of British complicity in torture in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Syria, Kenya and Pakistan. During the course of a civil action being brought by former Guantanamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, an MI5 officer admitted under cross-examination that a secret interrogation policy was in place which effectively led to British citizens being tortured in counter-terrorism investigations. The policy advised British officials that they were not legally obliged to intervene where they knew torture was taking place as the detainees were “not within our custody or control”. Nevertheless, MI5 repeatedly asked other intelligence agencies, such as the Pakistani ISI, to detain and question British citizens in Pakistan whom they suspected of involvement in plots against the UK.
MI5 officers, sometimes working with British police officers, would draw up a list of questions they wanted the ISI to put to the detainee. They would make arrangements to conduct their own interrogation a week or two later. And there is reason to suspect that MI5 officers watched some ISI interrogations through a CCTV link. So there would be no “custody or control”, no question of MI5 officers being seen to condone torture, no personal engagement in “any activity”. Nevertheless, there is clear and growing evidence that British citizens, and others, suffered the most appalling torture as a result. Last month, it emerged that then Prime Minister Tony Blair was fully aware of the existence of such a policy, leading to more calls for an independent inquiry into British complicity in rendition and torture. That Foreign Secretary David Milliband is now refusing to publish the policy suggests that its emergence could lead to even calls for criminal prosecutions at the highest level.
Indeed, some such incidents of British complicity in rendition and torture, such as that of Moroccan national Farid Hilali, precede the 9-11 attacks, as highlighted in Cageprisoners recent report Fabricating Terrorism II: British Complicity in Renditions and Torture. Hilali, recently extradited from the UK to Spain, was initially detained and tortured in 1999 while in the UAE before being renditioned to Morocco where he was further tortured. According to Hilali, the torture was at the behest of British intelligence who had given, “direct orders”, for the interrogation to take a certain course. Like other tortured detainees, Hilali spoke of how British agents were present during his torture and asked questions about his time in the UK and people in the UK. He was specifically told by one British agent, “If you want to come out of this problem, you have to cooperate with the British Government”. That this took place during the 1990s suggests that British complicity in torture is not a symptom of post-9-11 syndrome but more reflective of a long-term chronic Machiavellian virus which has become part and parcel of the British government’s genetic make-up.
Eager to play their part in this immoral and senseless war of terror, the Metropolitan police has been at the forefront of apprehending terror suspects, using torture as a tool of choice. Earlier this year, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police admitted that his officers subjected British citizen Babar Ahmad to “serious, gratuitous, prolonged and unjustified violence” and a “sustained and brutal beating occasioning him multiple injuries” in the course of an anti-terror raid. The admissions only came after five years of fierce litigation. Despite paying out £60,000 of tax-payers money in compensation, the guilty officers have never been sanctioned or penalized for their actions. In other words, within the Met, they were not seen as acting inappropriately.
Torture has been legitimized. The British government, the intelligence agencies and the police are all “War On Terror (WOT) Positive”. If torturing terror suspects is a useful and justifiable method of gathering evidence, then why should its legitimacy be questioned when it comes to dealing with other undesirables of society such as drug dealers and thieves? As Amnesty International has documented very clearly over the last 40 years, “once torture has been legitimized, even on a small scale, the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading practices inevitably expand to include countless other victims, and ultimately erodes the moral and legal principles on which society is based.”