The BBC reports that the UK ‘knew US mistreated rendition detainees’ following the publication of a report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
The report states that British agencies continued to share intelligence with allies despite knowing or suspecting abuse in more than 200 cases. Committee chairman Dominic Grieve said agencies knew of incidents that were “plainly unlawful” while Baroness Chakrabarti described them as “horrific practices”.
While it seems clear that the UK’s Security and Intelligence Services were aware of the inexcusable treatment of US detainees it would appear that, thankfully, they did not themselves routinely participate in rendition or enhanced interrogation.
This restraint and reluctance to collaborate more fully with US agencies in these activities may well have been because of the existence of the ISC and the oversight procedure to which intelligence services are accountable.
Is it also now time to hold an inquiry into UK Special Forces activities in Iraq and Afghanistan which are not subject to Parliamentary oversight, and which it has been alleged contravened the Laws of Armed Conflict?
Unlike the Intelligence Services which maintained a separate chain of command, UK Special Forces submitted themselves to a US command and adopted US methods and tactics, such as kill/capture missions.
There is sufficient evidence and anecdote, including the first hand accounts of former SAS operatives, to warrant an investigation but this has been repeatedly blocked by the Ministry of Defence.
If we are ever to understand our strategic failures in Iraq and Afghanistan or the concurrent rise of Islamist extremism we must first examine the policies and practices of detainee mistreatment, incarceration without trial or access to legal representation, rendition, waterboarding, kill/capture missions, night raids, drone strikes and collateral damage algorithms.
A new book, Rogue Heroes by Ben MacIntyre, is published today charting the early days of the Special Air Service.
It reveals how the organisation, which has been shrouded in mystery since its inception in 1941, survived numerous ‘cock-ups’ and obstruction from the army’s upper echelons to become the world-renowned force it is today.
It also reveals that many of its secretive missions behind enemy lines included, in the words of its founder, David Stirling ‘executions in cold blood’.
It seems that little has changed since those early days except that the modern SAS now enjoys the patronage of politicians and senior officers, seduced by raw courage, bravery and ruthless efficiency:
‘Towards the end of our tour a night raid in Rahim, conducted by a joint SAS and Afghan Special Forces team (TF196), resulted in three brothers being gunned down in their compound in front of their wives and children.
Again I found myself in conflict with British Tier One Special Forces. TF196 insisted the men were insurgents, but this claim seemed highly improbable to me. The brothers’ compound was just a short distance from one of our patrol bases and any suspicious activity would almost certainly have come to our attention. Our own J2 Shop had nothing on the men. The general consensus from our analysts was that the SAS, while ruthlessly efficient as always, had directed their special talents against the wrong targets.
When I challenged a TF196 spokesman on their version of events he played their top secret joker once more. Speaking to me by phone from an undisclosed location he said the information was classified. As a known Taliban‑loving apologist and mere part‑time soldier I could not be trusted and had no authority to contradict elite tier one special forces. A short while later I received another telephone call from the charming colonel in Task Force Helmand (TFH) ordering me to drop my line of enquiry. Although he remained amiable I detected a hardening in his tone.
The TFH top brass had silenced me, but the Rahim ‘spin zhiras’ remained determinedly voluble on the subject. They steadfastly maintained the brothers’ innocence and were outraged at the brutal executions in front of the victims’ families. Emissaries were despatched to the patrol base threatening retaliation and demanding an apology and blood money for the relatives. The PB Commander was bitterly angry that the raid had gone ahead without his knowledge, destroying the work his own men had done over the previous six months to marginalise the Taliban and protect the population from insurgent violence.
Shortly after we completed our tour the Rahim patrol base was abandoned and Afghan National Security Forces ceded control of the area to the Taliban. Perhaps these events were not linked to the slaying of the supposed insurgents but, given the long memories of our Afghan hosts, this seemed unlikely to me. Our actions had done nothing to strengthen the legitimacy of the GIRoA government as the Petreus COIN Field Manual had directed.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.