Out of the shadows - Iftekhar A Khan - Thursday, November 11, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

British MI6 chief Sir John Sawers walked out of the shadows to speak to the society of editors in London. He affirmed that the MI6 never shared intelligence with any intelligence network if it apprehended the subjects would be tortured. Sir John's moral view, "Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing to do with it," would be commendable only if the people in his country and elsewhere considered it trustworthy. The MI6 chief has painted a much softer image of the agency he heads, compared to what people think it stands for in the realm of international espionage, its torturous consequences, and human rights violations.

When MI6 turned hundred on Sept 3, 2009, The Times' columnist Ben Macintyre, in his article, "The British aptitude for espionage says a lot about our national character – for good and ill," wrote how one of the most effective spy networks was established when Navy Commander Mansfield Cumming had first walked into the secret service office in 1909. He went on, "When the British put their minds to lying...nobody does it better." Macintyre gives us no choice but to agree with him.

However, it's Sir John's moral claim of his network we are presently concerned with. Why did he decide to come out of the shroud of secrecy to claim what he did? Is it that people seem to have lost faith in the institutions that run on their taxes? Is the image of intelligence agencies sagging among their people for feeding them on contrived information and falsehood? What betrays public trust the most is when the intelligence networks mislead their people while operating in their name and in the name of patriotism. The director of Amnesty International UK, Katherine Allen, has said that, given the mounting evidence of British complicity in human rights abuses overseas since 2001, including torture, it's surprising that the chief of MI6 can say that the UK has "nothing to do with torture."

MI6 played a major role in preparing a dossier on Iraq's non-existent WMDs, and the years following the Iraqi invasion have been marked by public doubts about the credibility of the dodgy dossier. It is believed that when the agency presented the document to Tony Blair, he threw it back saying, "Sex it up," which meant, to fabricate more lies about WMDs. Sir John talks of avoiding torture, the "sexed-up dossier" on Iraq caused the death of more than 1.4 million innocent Iraqis. Even now, torture, death and destruction in Iraq go on unabated.

Already, MI5 and MI6 face an inquiry for the alleged torture of Ethiopian-born UK resident Mohammad Binamin, who was held in solitary confinement in Pakistan and later tortured in Morocco before his rendition to Gitmo aboard the CIA-run torture taxi planes. The book named Torture Taxi written by Trevor Paglen and A C Thomson says that "Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Algeria are notorious for torturing suspects. These ghastly regimes even rent their services." And that the granddaddy of all intelligence networks, the CIA, pays generously for such services. Therefore, the nations that cry foul on human rights violations are buyers of the gruesome services of human torture. Torture Taxi is a must-read for those who wish to see the hidden face of the intelligence networks, Sir John's high and moral assertions notwithstanding.

However, there's a modicum of solace that intelligence networks in the UK are reined in by the courts. Hence, they remain in check and are answerable to the judicial system of the country, unlike such agencies in the developing countries that are a law unto themselves. Even those who question about the "disappeared" are likely to disappear, and the courts are helpless.

On the lighter side, the people so far had heard of MI6 because of the entertaining movie characters like James Bond 007, his curvaceous and scantily-dressed female partners, and John le Carre's novels The Spy Who Came In from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But no one had expected the 15th chief spy of the agency, Sir John Sawers, to come out of the shadows, which is the first time in the century of the agency's existence. Perhaps the moral pressure on him was too much to bear.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: pinecity@gmail .com

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