FAC me, can we believe a word they say?
I think it would be fair to say that the nation is rarely riveted to the Parliament Channel. Aside from the very punchiest Punch and Judy moments of PMQs, it doesn’t really have too many watercooler moments. Or any.
But human rights anoraks like me were mesmorised for a moment or two back in February when the eternally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed David Miliband made his “apology” speech on renditions.
He was “very sorry”, he said, not to have been able to tell the Commons that actually – contrary to earlier denials – US rendition flights had taken prisoners to the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia. In fact, he admitted, prisoners would later turn up at a certain well known holiday camp called Guantánamo Bay. (He may not have used exactly those words). But he was going to check into it all again and Amnesty and others were invited to send any info that it had on the issue. We did. Nothing’s come of it.
On the surface Miliband’s climbdown was passed off as a simple matter of the US authorities not having checked their records properly. But, as the Foreign Affairs Committee has just been saying (new report yesterday), our government shouldn’t believe everything that US officials tell them – least of all when it comes to the “war on terror”.
The FAC hasn’t – excuse the phrase – pulled its punches on torture. The fact that the US government has brazenly defended its use of waterboarding, says the FAC, is grounds alone for a serious distancing of UK policy and practice from the White House’s. Well, yes. Quite. (I notice, by the way, that the US blogosphere is still buzzing with reaction to former attorney General John Ashcroft’s refusal to condemn waterboarding as torture last week.)
In fact, rather than doing their blood-out-of-a-stone act, UK ministers would have been better off from the start if they’d simply allowed a proper independent investigation into the whole murky business of rendition flights, the out-sourcing of torture and just how people ended up on the “Guantánamo Shuttle” flights. Or am I being hopelessly naïve?
Meanwhile, if ministers are still struggling to catch up with it all, film-makers have long since decided that yes, they did have the courage to lift a few stones and see what crawled out. Most notably, Errol Morris’ much-anticipated Standard Operating Procedure is just hitting UK cinemas as I write.
The always impressively bequiffed Mark Kermode was praising SOP on the TV recently and while a documentary about the infamous photographed torture at Abu Ghraib isn’t going to be a barrel of laughs – it is just the sort of film that, you might say, the CIA would prefer you not to bother with. So, go and see it! (As a bonus, Amnesty’s superb 90-second Stuff Of Life shocker on waterboarding is showing with SOP. Take it from me, seen on a big screen with full-on surround-sound, Stuff is a truly terrifying 90 seconds. Be warned).
Finally, if you’re in the London area on Tuesday evening – come down to Amnesty’s free screening of the haunting (and Oscar-winning!) Taxi To The Dark Side at our East London offices. This is about Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver beaten to death by US prison guards at Bagram jail in Afghanistan in 2002. It’s definitely not Mamma Mia, but like Morris’ film it’s essential viewing.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.