AT a press conference called by the Stop The War Coalition in London on Monday, ex-British SAS soldier Ben Griffin read out the following statement:
‘Our government would have us believe that our involvement in the process known as Extraordinary Rendition is limited to two occasions on which plans carrying detainees landed to refuel on the British Indian Ocean Territory, Diego Garcia.
‘David Miliband has stated that the British Government expects the Government of the United States to “seek permission to render detainees via UK territory and airspace, including Overseas Territories; that we will grant that permission only if we are satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations; and how we understand our obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.”
‘The use of British Territory and airspace pales into insignificance in light of the fact that it has been British soldiers detaining the victims of Extraordinary Rendition in the first place.
‘Since the invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 UKSF (UK Special Forces) has operated within a joint US/UK Task Force.
‘This Task Force has been responsible for the detention of hundreds if not thousands of individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq.
‘Individuals detained by British soldiers within this Task force have ended up in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, Balad Special Force Base, Camp Nama at Baghdad International Airport, and Abu Ghraib Prison.
‘Whilst the government has stated its desire that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp be closed, it has remained silent over these other secretive prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘These secretive prisons are part of a global network in which individuals face torture and are held indefinitely without charge.
‘All of this is in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, International Law and the UN Convention Against Torture.
‘Early involvement of UK Special Forces in the process of Extraordinary Rendition centres around operations carried out in Afghanistan in late 2001.
‘Of note is an incident at the Qalai Janghi fortress, near Marzar-i-Sharif.
‘UKSF fought alongside their US counterparts to put down a bloody revolt by captured Taliban fighters.
‘The surviving Taliban fighters were then rendered to Guantanamo Bay.
‘After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 this joint US/UK task force appeared.
‘Its primary mission was to kill or capture high value targets.
‘Individuals detained by this Task Force often included non-combatants caught up in the search for high value targets.
‘The use of secret detention centres within Iraq has negated the need to use Guantanamo Bay whilst allowing similar practice to go unnoticed.
‘I have here an account taken from an interpreter interviewed by the organisation Human Rights Watch (http://hrw.org/reports/2006/us0706/2.htm).
‘He was based at the detention and interrogation facility within Camp Nama at Baghdad International Airport during 2004.
‘This facility was used to interrogate individuals captured by the joint US/UK Task Force.
‘In it are details of numerous breaches of the Geneva Convention and accounts of torture.
‘These breaches were not the actions of rogue elements, the abuse was systematic and sanctioned through the chain of command.
‘This account is corroborated by an investigation carried out by “New York Times’’ reporters into Camp Nama and the US/UK Task Force, which appeared in the “New York Times’’ on March 19, 2006.
‘Throughout my time in Iraq I was in no doubt that individuals detained by UKSF and handed over to our American colleagues would be tortured.
‘During my time as member of the US/UK Task Force, three soldiers recounted to me an incident in which they witnessed the brutal interrogation of two detainees.
‘Partial drowning and an electric cattle prod were used during this interrogation and this amounted to torture.
‘It was the widely held assumption that this would be the fate of any individuals handed over to our American colleagues.
‘My commanding officer at the time expressed his concern to the whole squadron that we were becoming “the secret police of Baghdad’’.
‘As UK soldiers within this Task Force a policy that we would detain individuals but not arrest them was continually enforced.
‘Since it was commonly assumed by my colleagues that anyone we detained would subsequently be tortured, this policy of detention and not arrest was regarded as a clumsy legal tool used to distance British soldiers from the whole process.
‘During many operations conducted to apprehend high value targets, numerous non-combatants were detained and interrogated in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of civilians in occupied territories.
‘I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.
‘The joint US/UK Task Force has broken International Law, contravened The Geneva Conventions and disregarded the UN Convention Against Torture.
‘British soldiers are intimately involved in the actions of this Task Force.
‘Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, David Miliband, Geoff Hoon, Des Browne, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown: in their respective positions over the last five years they must know that British soldiers have been operating within this joint US/UK task force.
‘They must have been briefed on the actions of this unit
‘As the occupiers of Iraq we have a duty to uphold the law, to abide by the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.
‘We are also responsible for securing the borders of Iraq – on all counts we have failed.
‘The British Army once had a reputation for playing by the rules.
‘That reputation has been tarnished over the last seven years.
‘We have accepted illegality as the norm.
‘I have no doubt that over the coming months and years increasing amounts of information concerning the actions of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will become public.
‘Whilst the majority of British Forces have been withdrawn from Iraq, UKSF remain within the US/UK Task Force.’
Responding to reporters’ questions, Griffin said: ‘I was but a small cog within a much larger machine involved in this process.’
He stressed once again that people have been, and continue to be, ‘secretly detained, held without charge and tortured’ up to the present day.
He also said that one senior military man, ‘Barry McCaffrey has twice publicly stated that there is a prison on Diego Garcia and that a prison was completed in the 1980s.’
He added: ‘I have no doubt that there is a camp on Diego Garcia.’
Referring to the Human Rights Watch document, he said it gives details of tactics used ‘to interrogate individuals captured by US/UK forces in Baghdad.’
He continued: ‘I don’t think there is any doubt that this is systematic and not rogue elements’, adding that the use of techniques which have been widely condemned as abuse or torture was ‘publicly supported by Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush’.
Griffin was asked about the shocking allegations concerning the detention of Iraqis at Abu Naji – a British base in southern Iraq – in May 2004, including allegations that up to 20 Iraqis were executed and that many were tortured before death.
Griffin said he did not know about these allegations, but said the government had sought to create an impression that British forces in Iraq would ‘somehow act as a brake on the Americans’.
But he said that: ‘In my experience, if anything, the opposite has been true and British soldiers have become more like their American counterparts.’
He went on to say: ‘I have no doubt that over the coming years more and more instances like these will come to light.’
He said that, after listening to the accounts of colleagues who had witnessed an interrogation of detainees by Americans, and ‘from what was perceived to happen to those we arrested, I have no doubt that they went on to be tortured.
‘In Iraq definitely, it goes on, definitely in the period from 2003 until now.’
He also said that in the incident at Qalai Janghi in Afghanistan, after the invasion in late 2001, that 400 people were killed and that the survivors were interned by the Americans.
He said: ‘I’m hoping by making public my own experience and the limited knowledge I have that others will come forward and fill in the gaps in the jigsaw and that will come into the open.
‘I’d like parliament to look into what our troops are doing in Iraq.
‘Abuses are being swept under the carpet.’
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop The War Coalition, told the press conference: ‘There are many soldiers who know the truth about these things and who feel very strongly.
‘We get massive anecdotal evidence from soldiers who come up to our stalls in town centres.
‘Serving soldiers aren’t in any away allowed to speak out and there are very many official and unofficial pressures on former soldiers not to do so.’
She added: ‘We have called a demonstration for March 15 and a public meeting this week and we continue to campaign.
‘We believe this is a huge issue.’
Griffin said that, since leaving the army ‘I’ve read the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.
‘I realise we have broken so many of these conventions and laws in Iraq.
‘I don’t think we know the whole story of how deeply we are involved in this “War on Terror’’.’