SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alex Salmond spoke up for millions of British people yesterday when he highlighted the role that one-time Labour PM Blair and Foreign Secretary Straw played when they allowed just released Shaker Aamer to be held without trial or charge at Bagram prison in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay in US occupied Cuba for years, where he was subjected to the attention of professional torturers, sometimes in the presence of British intelligence agents.
Salmond told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning that they ‘must have known’ about the torture of British prisoner Shaker Aamer. Aamer has already said that a British intelligence officer was present at the time he had his head banged against a wall at the US Bagram air base in Afghanistan in 2002.
Salmond said: ‘British officials, intelligence officers… came into Bagram airbase on the same flight as the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and so the not unreasonable allegation that Shaker Aamer makes is that both the Prime Minister Tony Blair and the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw must have known, not just about his illegal abduction, but also about his torture at the hands of the US authorities.
‘As with so many things Messrs Blair and Straw have a great deal to answer for and they have to be asked the straight question: “How can they possibly not have known about the fate befallen a British citizen?”
‘Governments have many responsibilities but the prime responsibility of all governments is to keep their own citizens safe from harm and governments are not meant to collaborate in the illegal abduction and then the torture of one of our own citizens. Both the then Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have to face up and tell us exactly what they knew and when they knew it.’
Salmond added: ‘In the Mail on Sunday interview, Mr Aamer claimed some 200 people interrogated him during his time in prison and he was subject to torture by methods including sleep deprivation.’ He added: ‘One of the suspicions that those campaigning for his release have had is that there has to be a reason for him not being released despite being cleared for release twice over that period.
‘It’s always been centred over the revelations he would have about what’s been going on in Guantanamo Bay, it now appears a reason might have been about what had gone on in January 2002 at Bagram airbase.’
Responding to the allegations made by Aamer, a Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘The UK government stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.
‘We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone it for any purpose. Neither does the UK make use of any so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs.’
This comes from a regime whose recent history contains examples of torture on a massive scale from the hanging of thousands of Kenyan freedom fighters during the Mau Mau emergency (fight for freedom), when men and women were brutally tortured at Hola camp, where castration was a common punishment, to the decision to allow Bobby Sands and nine other Irish Republican hunger strikers to starve themselves to death in 1981 by the Thatcher government.
Labour had a hand in that situation as well. It was Merlyn Rees in 1976, then Labour’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who announced that those people convicted of causing terrorist offences would no longer be entitled to special category status and were to be treated as ordinary criminals. In more recent times there is the beating to death by British troops of Basra resident Baha Mousa!
Shaker Aamer is now expected to bring legal proceedings against the British government over its alleged complicity in his mistreatment. It is not known whether he will also be taking action against the previous Labour governments.
For the tens of millions of workers who support Shaker Aamer the way forward is clear. The only way to prevent these atrocities being repeated is through the working class organising a socialist revolution to put an end to British capitalism by bringing in a workers government that will put government ministers and former ministers who tolerated or supported torture on trial.