A Tale of Two Tortures

How the Americans and the British “tortured some folks” and got away with it, as Annie Machon explains.

By Annie Machon Special to Consortium News

in Brussels

It was with some disbelief that I read of two torture-related stories emerging around the same time last week. The first was about the legal victory of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, Libyan dissident, kidnap victim of MI6 and the CIA, and torture victim of Colonel Gaddafi. UK governmental apologies were finally made and reparation paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of torture condemned.

Meanwhile, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full disgusting display. Our American chums are in the process of attempting to appoint an alleged notorious torturer as the head of the CIA.

While nominee Gina Haspel had soft-ball questions lobbed at her by a tame pack of senators at her confirmation hearing, retired CIA senior analyst, former presidential briefer, and now justice activist, Ray McGovern, stood up and said what the Senators knew, but would not say: namely that she supervised — directly, on site — the waterboarding of Al Nashiri, who had been kidnapped and brought to the first secret CIA prison abroad (in Thailand) for “interrogation.” McGovern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when additional police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By juxtaposing these two incidents I am not trying to make the point that the UK is morally better than the USA when it comes to torture over the last 17 years – manifestly it has not been – but certainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of torture was verboten. Partly for ethical reasons, but mainly because the British Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-productive the use of torture and illegal imprisonment could be during the early stages of the bitter civil war in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

A Lesson Forgotten

Belhadj: Turned over for torture.

Unfortunately those hard-won lessons were generational, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a result, come the aftermath of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh military retaliation, illegal war, kidnapping and torture, the compliant British intelligence agencies followed helter-skelter down the same path, all in the name of the special intelligence relationship.

So, back to the Belhaj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to transport you back to 1995. Although the US-funded Mujahideen in Afghanistan was by then morphing into al- Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emergent, if regional threat, peace seemed to be breaking out all over the world: the Cold War was officially over, a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Northern Ireland was in the making, and there even seemed to be some progress with the running political sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occupation, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

However, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the Western intelligence hit list. This was partly because it was suspected by the UK government to have been behind the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and the search for the perpetrators was a top level priority for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any progress, and partly because Gaddafi had largely closed the huge Libyan oil reserves to Western oil companies.

Worth a Ton to MI6

So when, in 1995, a Libyan military intelligence officer (subsequently codenamed TUNWORTH) walked into the British embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the resident spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gaddafi, solve the Lockerbie case, and allow Britain and its allies to once again plunder the vast Libyan oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islamist extremists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted support and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illegal under UK law, which required a ministerial sign-off before such an operation, and then it went wrong, killing innocent people. How much heinous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Belhaj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the very organisation that MI6 had funded for this attack. As a result, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the international fold following his notorious deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 2004, Belhaj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his pregnant wife were tracked down and intercepted by MI6 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thailand and held in a CIA black site, before onward transit to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Belhaj and his pregnant wife were lashed to the floor of a US military transport plan for the duration.

Belhaj was subsequently held in the notorious Abu Selim prison for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tortured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

Sarkozy: Under investigation.

That could have been the end of it, except the West made a catastrophic decision to once again try to depose Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its P\president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reliable UK and USA, in a “humanitarian intervention” to protect the citizens of Islamist Benghazi – which by the way was not under direct threat at the time. Another fabricated excuse for a Western war of aggression.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is currently under investigation for illegally accepting five million euros from Gaddafi to fund his bid for the French Presidency in the 2007 election, and in the same year Gaddafi was awarded a full state visit to France.)

The ‘Deal in the Desert’

This time the West achieved openly and shamelessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shamefully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gaddafi, who was caught, brutalised and buggered with a bayonet, murdered, and his mutilated corpse left on display for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was captured, tortured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-entering the political fray in Libya.

In the chaos that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of documents left in the office of notorious intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the country initially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these documents was a letter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facilitate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a congratulatory letter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facilitate the capture of Belhaj, and effectively to see him as a “gift” to the Libyan regime in 2004, as a gesture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s letter to Musa Kusa, submitted by Belhaj’s lawyers:

“I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Mr Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years…..Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from [Mr Belhaj] through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence about [Mr Belhaj] was British… I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gaddafi regime fatally trusted its new relationship with the West; and a man and his pregnant wife suffered, and the country as a whole continues to suffer immensely from the ensuing civil war that followed Gaddafi’s assassination..

The court case last week in the UK was a victory for them. Belhaj himself, despite successive UK governments offering one million pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknowledgement and apology from the UK government about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accepted half of the amount offered. The three UK key players – Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen naturally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blemish to their reputations….

So are we likely to see the same admission of guilt from the instigators of the US torture programme?

Far from it. Even if Gina Haspel is not confirmed by the full Senate, the fact she was even considered for the post of heading the CIA is utterly shameless. As was the disgusting treatment of CIA pensioner and peace protester, Ray McGovern.

Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service (the U.S. counterpart is the FBI).

24 comments for “A Tale of Two Tortures

  1. May 24, 2018 at 23:23

    A very helpful synopsis of shameful things done in the name of the British people. Thank you Ms Machon. You mention “the British Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-productive the use of torture and illegal imprisonment could be during the early stages of the bitter civil war in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.”

    I wish it was only Ireland but we torturing people in Aden in 1960s and there’s more in the British Raj in India as that country approached independence.

    We may recognise on reflection that torture does not produce reliable information but that has never enabled senior policemen to prevent their staff from trying it. Perhaps its not mentioned in Staff College?

    What we see today is the internet giving all interested parties access to news, unfiltered by any of the financial power centres. That’s the difference. Its not ethical police management triumphing. Ethics are not a predominant force in law enforcement yet. Its just a few good ‘pro bono’ lawyers (take a bow HRW) investigating the harvest of complaints and getting some before the magistrates.

  2. Tom
    May 22, 2018 at 13:46

    What’s next? Torturing people on prime time TV?

  3. Hang together
    May 20, 2018 at 08:30

    The Brits are still dreadfully touchy about it:


    This incident has one puzzling feature. Command responsibility for the universal-jurisdiction crime of refoulement by MI6 was amply documented. So there’s no harm in an institutional admission against interest. Britain is a treaty party to the Rome Statute, but as a P-5 member they are protected by the veto-impunity provision. Impunity in other jurisdictions is a matter of horse-trading. That’s clear.

    But Human Rights Watch is a blatant CIA front, completely infiltrated and corrupted. How did they of all people happen to unearth this incriminating evidence regarding the sore point of torture?

    My guess would be, if you’re a CIA official implicated in widespread and systematic torture constituting crimes against humanity, like Gina Haspel, you want lots of other people in legal jeopardy. That way, everybody gets with the program. MI6 is motivated to stamp out any residual independence in the bumptious UK judiciary so it’s more like a cringing US court.

  4. Realist
    May 18, 2018 at 17:02

    Only Obomber could make torture sound like no big deal by calling the victims “folks.”

    • Mild - Facetious
      May 20, 2018 at 18:13

      Obama is dead and buried, Realist/
      The Closing of the American Mind\

      Has long since been accomplished/
      In the Reality of Slavery / Slaves

      So, then must the reality of HWL
      Be obliterated in words of Howl

      By Ginsberg, the Foreseer.

  5. jazza
    May 18, 2018 at 03:41

    whilst I agree with the thrust of this article – there is no justice until those guilty of crimes are in prison – apologies are not enough – and never have been

  6. Brendan
    May 17, 2018 at 17:45

    Dr James Mitchell devised and personally conducted waterboarding programs for the CIA. On Fox News last weekend, he tried to defend this torture technique. His argument was that it was something only slightly unpleasant, which American attorneys even volunteered for in order to judge it.

    Of course, those volunteers knew that it would soon be over and they would then just walk out the door. Mitchell tries to give the impression that the experience would be the same for a prisoner in a CIA black site, held indefinitely, without charge and without contact with the outside world, and under real pressure to make a confession.

    What was just as bad about that interview was that the interviewer treated him as a hero who was just working to save his country.


  7. Mild - Facetious
    May 17, 2018 at 16:57
  8. voza0db
    May 17, 2018 at 16:48

    I’ve just read it!

    Gina Haspel is the new director of the CIA, after getting confirmed in the US Senate. Several Democrats crossed the aisle and gave her the green light, despite objecting to Haspel’s role in the CIA’s torture program.

    The final vote was 53 in favor and 45 opposed.

    It would be a surprise if the United States of Terrorism&Torture politicians didn’t confirmed a specialist to the CIA!

  9. Brendan
    May 17, 2018 at 16:43

    The British government’s generous settlement with Belhaj was obviously not motivated by any sense of justice. They were trying to keep quiet the support that they gave to terrorists like him and his organisation in the war in Libya. Some facts might have attracted too much attention if there were a lengthy high-profile court case:

    – Belhaj received weapons from the west, although the western-backed “interim Prime Minister” Jibril claims that this was not their intenion:

    “Mr. Jibril himself described in an interview how a French shipment of missiles and machine guns had gone awry. At a June meeting, President Sarkozy had agreed to “ask our Arab friends” to supply the Transitional National Council with the weapons, Mr. Jibril said. But, he said, the acting defense minister diverted them to a militia led by Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a militant Islamist who had once been held in a secret prison by the C.I.A.”

    – Belhaj was involved in the the ethnic cleansing of the Tawergha, a black ethnic group who were mostly supporters of Libyan leader Gaddafi.

    – The British government operated an “open door” policy that allowed Islamists to travel from Britain to fight against Gaddafi. This applied to members of Belhaj’s organisation, the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), and its offshoot, the 17 February Martyrs Brigade. Amongst those members was Salman Abedi, who carried out the May 2017 bombing of the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 children and adults.

    A British government minister later had to admit that it was “likely” that “the British Government was in communication with (…) former members of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade”.

  10. voza0db
    May 17, 2018 at 16:17

    I’ll be totally surprised if Gina Haspel is not confirmed.

  11. alley cat
    May 17, 2018 at 15:04

    “Even if Gina Haspel is not confirmed by the full Senate, the fact she was even considered for the post of heading the CIA is utterly shameless.”

    Our right honorable senators will take that “shameless” epithet and wear it like a crown. Shameless senators? A textbook example of “tautology.”

    Yesterday the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in open defiance of all known and available evidence, said there “is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.”

    Par for the course from a man who wants to put an unindicted felon in charge of Murder & Torture, Inc. (Ya gotta admit that Bloody G’s a good fit for the job.)

    The empire is in full-on decline. The rats are fleeing the sinking petro-dollar for the petro-yuan. The only question now is whether we’ll go out with a whimper or a nuclear bang that will take all humanity down with us.

    • Mild - Facetious
      May 17, 2018 at 17:22

      “With Bolton Riding Herd”

      Like A Wild West Cowboy,
      I Nod To Noz & Fugees

      The World is Yours or
      Whose World Is This?

      People walk’n round/
      Act’n in a daze

      All around the town
      Act’n dippy wild,

      flyn High, (like Cohen)
      until Truth is Exposed.

      Then Will The Balloon
      Come Crashing Down


      — With The Evil Bolton Riding Herd

  12. Professor
    May 17, 2018 at 14:50

    The Brits , the Lords of Yesteryear , tortured any all who disagreed, whenever, wherever. The Irish for example for 500 years. Too bad the real perpetrators can’t be exhumed and cloned and tortured to death in a reciprocal manner. Rum, sodomy and the lash? Stiff upper lip? IPA for God’s Sake ! Pax Britannia? Maybe later on , farther on down the road. , if our species survives, The miracle of science could make such a thing possible. Brits were just doing what comes natural for them. It’s been going on for a little while.. God Bless the Queen , even if she really is half German. Whatever works.

  13. Joe Tedesky
    May 17, 2018 at 14:15

    It’s an amazing thing to how the Western governments will chase after terrorist the world over to stop the terror when all they needed to do was go down the hall of the CIA, MI6, or Massad, and target the instigators. It’s psychological projection at it’s finest, for sure, that keeps the engines of terror in motion. We dear readers are all living within side of a lie. A grand lie to suck us all into their (the Establishment) self made reality. Wake up my fellow citizens. If you can’t do anything else then quit believing their lies.

    • Joe Tedesky
      May 17, 2018 at 22:29

      It’s always a jolt to hear what Wayne Madsen has to say. Read how Israel is exempt from sanctions restrictions.


      No better example of the doubld standard principle being in play, as there is no better observation to see of why this corrupted government has much to hide. Actors such as the thugs who hide behind the Jewish religion and culture, to the unbelievably naive Saudi’s who think they will benefit from a Greater Israel, as to the power money behind the MIC who need continual war, is what guides the American nation into the headwinds of disaster. I’m not being overly dramatic, because between pulling out of the JPCOA, arming up Ukraine Nazi’s, dilly tallying with Kim Jung un, and finally supporting the creation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while unarmed Palestinian protesters get murdered by the Zionist at the gate, is not making America great again, or will these kind of actions make America any greater any time soon.

      Pertaining to this article; who owns Hollywood?

  14. Sam F
    May 17, 2018 at 14:13

    Most of the District of Corruption, like most media-deluded citizens, are foolish enough to assume that torture works, and will not be told otherwise by their tyrant masters. Not two out of a hundred have any principles at all until they fear retribution. They will do what their zionist masters say, look for rationales to think what the TV says to think, as they would have done under any historical tyrant. They are unworthy of democracy, and sold it for baubles and scams.

  15. May 17, 2018 at 12:36

    I’m not sure what the proper phrase would be to describe the Western governments and institutions, and those who lead our so called – “intelligence agencies.” Are we lead by an assemblage of: “Psychopath’s psychopaths?” Or perhaps: they are the most “Machiavellian Machiavellianist?” Or maybe it’s simpler. Perhaps we’re lead by a simpleton bunch of amoral power mad idiots with no loyalty to anything or anyone but their own self defined “interests,” leaving us all just spectators to their ongoing carnage and mayhem euphemistically referred to in MSM as – “foreign policy.”

    • Sam F
      May 17, 2018 at 14:07

      Indeed “we’re lead by a simpleton bunch of amoral power mad idiots with no loyalty to anything.”
      They have no principles and are loyal only to money and the career rewards of corrupt parties.
      This is the tyranny of the unregulated market economy, the dictatorship of the rich.
      We have lost both democracy and the tools to restore it, mass media and elections.

      • Alex
        May 18, 2018 at 07:12

        Could not agree more

    • Joe Tedesky
      May 17, 2018 at 14:27

      Gary I think what comprises our corrupted establishment, is a mixture of sociopaths, opportunists, and blackmailed victims. These are clever buggers for sure, who line the bench of the deceitful government we now have all around us. There is no such word as fair, as reasonable has left the building as well. It’s all about power Gary, but something tells me you already knew that. The latter part of your comment was a hint. Have a good one Gary. Joe

      • Mild - Facetious
        May 17, 2018 at 17:43

        Billions of accolades should be attributed
        to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

        Which Truly won the electoral college
        thru the use of Collectivist Homonym’s

        The Koch Brothers use these as Bait
        and Have the Captured Federal Gov’t.

        The Federalist Society REFUSED
        to enjoin US FEDERAL JUSTICES

        Into vacant Jurisdictions by GOP

    • Soldim
      May 24, 2018 at 04:12

      For me the appropriate term is ‘kakistocracy’. ‘Kakisto’ is the superlative of bad and ‘cratos’ is of course ‘rule’ (as in rule by the demos in democracy). So liberally kakistocracy is rule by the worst elements of society. Please don’t confuse ‘psychopathy’ with ‘sociopathy’. The former is the impairment of one’s ability to tell right from wrong due to mental disease. Sufferers cannot help that, they are ill. Sociopaths however have no such physical impairment. They simply have no compunction or humanity, they ruthless and subhuman. It is this that we are facing with our overlords

Comments are closed.