Thursday, 10 November 2011
"WE DON'T WANT TO INTERFERE WITH THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, BUT..."
THE INFLUENCE DODGY JOURNALISTS CAN HAVE OVER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
Home Affairs - Minutes of Evidence[Back to Report]
Here you can browse the Minutes of Evidence which were ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 22 October 2002.
TUESDAY 14 MAY 2002
Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair
Mr David Cameron Bob Russell
Mrs Janet Dean Mr Marsha Singh
Bridget Prentice Angela Watkinson
Mr Gwyn Prosser David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
MR DAVID ROSE, Special Investigations Reporter, The Observer, MR RICHARD WEBSTER, Author of "The Great Children's Home Panic", and MR BOB WOFFINDEN, Freelance Investigative Journalist, examined.
Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence
Examination of Witnesses (Questions 38-59)
MR DAVID ROSE, MR RICHARD WEBSTER AND MR BOB WOFFINDEN
TUESDAY 14 MAY 2002
38. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our witnesses. This is the first session of our inquiry into allegations of abuse in children's homes. I should make clear at the outset that, although we are under great pressure to do so, we are not going to examine in any detail individual cases. Of course, they may be cited where they illustrate a wider point, but we do not wish to get dragged into individual cases because that is not our function. The second point I should mention to witnesses, although I suspect they are well aware of this, is that we have to be careful of the rule on sub judice, so that if a case is before either a court of first instance or the Court of Appeal, then it cannot be referred to by name. If it is before the Criminal Cases Review Commission that is fine. If the CCRC has referred it to the Court of Appeal, then again it is covered by sub judice so we have to be a bit careful there. I think, since this is the first session, I will start by quoting the terms of reference. As I say, we have been under a lot of pressure to widen our terms of reference and we propose to stick as closely as possible to them. The questions in which we are interested are: "Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?" Two: "Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?" Three: "Should there be a limit—in terms of number of years since the alleged offence took place—on prosecution of cases of child abuse?" Four: "Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards for compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?" And five: "Is there a weakness in the current law on `similar fact' evidence?" Those are the issues on which we hope to concentrate. Can I first of all put a general question to each of our witnesses and ask, starting perhaps with Mr Woffinden, how you became interested in this area?
(Mr Woffinden) Well, obviously I have been interested in miscarriages of justice for some years now, so in a sense I came in through that doorway, a lot of people contacting me saying that in these particular cases they had been wrongly imprisoned. So I had this background of interest in miscarriages of justice and it was natural for me to become concerned about these cases.
39. When did you begin to notice that there was a common thread to them?
(Mr Woffinden) Probably from about 1996 onwards it seemed that all these convictions were being obtained by similar means. So then we tried to put together, initially with Richard when I was writing articles, precisely what was happening.
40. Thank you. Mr Rose?
(Mr Rose) I am a relatively new arrival on the scene. I became interested about two years ago when a lawyer—with whom I had worked very closely some years ago investigating the miscarriage of justice which befell the Tottenham Three, the three men falsely convicted on fabricated evidence of murdering PC Blakelock in the riots at Broadwater Farm—contacted me saying he had been instructed in one of these cases and he was more convinced than he had ever been not only that his client in that particular case was innocent but that the case did fit into a general pattern which was causing him, as an experienced barrister, now a QC, grave concern. He actually gave me Richard Webster's book to read and it was as a result of that that I began to investigate a number of cases.
41. Thank you. You were responsible for making the Panorama programme.
(Mr Rose) Yes, the first thing I did was investigate the case of Roy Shuttleworth, now before the Criminal Cases Review Commission, for Panorama. As part of the research for that programme I looked into a number of other cases too and subsequently I continued to work in the area for The Observer.
42. Thank you. Mr Webster?
(Mr Webster) Unlike Bob Woffinden and David Rose, I am not an investigative journalist. I came into this field because I wrote a fairly substantial intellectual biography of Freud and that may seem a strange route in, but that led me into the field of studying recovered memory and false memory and the origins of that in 1896. I will not go into that now. Having finished that, I thought I would spend three or four weeks looking at false allegations or looking at sexual abuse allegations starting with the Cleveland affair because I felt there were things there that I wanted to understand. That was in early 1996 and it so happened that that coincided with the non-publication of the Jillings report into alleged abuse in North Wales. It also coincided with the beginning of an extremely strong campaign run by The Independent newspaper to try to force upon a reluctant Government a tribunal of inquiry based on the non-publication of the Jillings report. At that time, it seemed to me, that what was happening in North Wales (and I was going on trust from The Independent reports) was the genuine article, that there was massive abuse or had been abuse on a massive scale. Questions were raised about that. I did actually meet some former members of staff from Bryn Estyn and I decided the only thing I could reasonably do was go to North Wales and begin to be an investigative journalist, although I was not one. That is what I started to do. I will not go into details about my investigation, but really, it would be true to say, that by having started investigating North Wales before the Tribunal was ever convened, I then decided I must look over the border in Cheshire and Merseyside and ever since then, on and off, I have been investigating these cases simply because, I think, of the sheer horrifying nature of the miscarriages of justice which they have undoubtedly produced...
A secret agent's story'I helped MI5. My reward: brutality and prison'When Bisher al-Rawi agreed to work for the British government, he thought he was doing the right thing. He spent four gruelling years at Guantanamo Bay for his efforts. In this remarkable interview he breaks his silence and tells his extraordinary story to David Rose
reddit this David Rose The Observer, Sunday 29 July 2007 Article history James Bond used to interview informants in nightclubs and luxury hotels. Le Carré's George Smiley preferred park benches, or safe houses in Belgravia. But when Bisher al-Rawi met the men from MI5, they chose somewhere more prosaic: a table in the basement of the Kensington High Street McDonald's, just to the left of the stairs. 'I always had a Filet-o-Fish,' al-Rawi says drily. 'They would only drink. One supposes they didn't like the food.'
It wasn't the only difference between Britain's real and fictional spies. Having risked his life and reputation to tell MI5 about Islamic radicalism in London in the months after 9/11, al-Rawi has told The Observer the sensational story of his betrayal.
A secret telegram was sent from the British Security Service to the CIA, in which they told the Americans that al-Rawi was carrying a timing device for a bomb - in reality, an innocuous battery charger from Argos - on a business trip to Gambia. Al-Rawi, the telegram added, was an 'Iraqi extremist' associate of the preacher Abu Qatada, later described as Osama bin Laden's ambassador to Europe and now in a British jail
It did not, however, mention the fact that al-Rawi had been seeing Qatada at the request of MI5.
Only a few months earlier, in the spring of 2002, while Qatada was wanted and supposedly in hiding, al-Rawi had visited him numerous times with MI5's knowledge, in the hope of arranging a meeting between him and his handlers. In addition, he had told MI5 all about his life and tried to provide an insight into Britain's Islamic scene.
All of it was thrown in his face. Arrested on arrival in Gambia and interrogated, a month later, al-Rawi was flown on an illegal CIA 'rendition' flight halfway across the world and spent four and a half years detained without charge in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. From the beginning, he says, the basis of his hundreds of interrogations was the information he had already freely given to MI5.
Last week, in two days of interviews, al-Rawi told his story for the first time. He was speaking out for one reason - to help his friend, Jamil el-Banna, who was arrested in Gambia with him and shared his ordeal. Like al-Rawi, he has now been deemed to pose no threat by the Americans. But el-Banna, a refugee from Jordan long settled in Britain who has five British children, is still in his cell in Guantanamo - because the UK government has refused to allow his return.
Now 39, al-Rawi looks older and thinner than in photos from before his arrest. Clean-shaven, in designer jeans and a sweatshirt, he remains animated and articulate, punctuating even the grimmest episodes with an expansive, mischievous laugh.
His family came to Britain when al-Rawi was 16 after his father, a wealthy businessman, was tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. For a time he went to Millfield, the public school in Somerset, and later studied engineering at London's Queen Mary and Westfield College. His father died in 1992 and the rest of his family - his mother, brother and sister - acquired UK citizenship. al-Rawi remained an Iraqi, in the hope that this would one day make it easier to retrieve property left behind.
During the 1990s he ran his own engineering business and learned to fly helicopters. He rarely drove a car, preferring big motorbikes. It was through his business that al-Rawi got to know el-Banna.
Al-Rawi recollects that he met Qatada at a mosque in London and gradually they became friends. 'I got to know his kids. My relationship with Abu Qatada wasn't much different from with a lot of people in the community,' said al-Rawi.
Several times before 9/11, he was asked to be an interpreter at meetings between MI5 and Arabic-speakers, including Qatada. 'On two occasions I asked the officers in private, "Is it OK to have a relationship with Abu Qatada? Is this a problem?" And they always said, "No, it's fine, it's OK."' Phase two of his relationship began a few weeks after the 11 September attacks in 2001, when two MI5 men came to his home, introducing themselves as Alex and Matt. 'The family was freaking out, so I took them in the conservatory and closed the door. They'd done their homework very well, they knew a lot about me. It was like an interview.'
They came back a week later but because his family felt uncomfortable, al-Rawi says they began to meet outside - first in a pub at Victoria, and later at the McDonald's. 'In those early days they were always offering me money. I was very clear with them. I told them I wasn't going to be paid. I agreed to talk to MI5 because I believed it would do some good.' Even before 9/11, al-Rawi says, he could see that tension was rising between Muslims and the authorities in Britain. 'I wanted to bring the two sides together.' He shrugs. 'Boy, did I fall through the gap.'
However, al-Rawi was concerned that he might somehow incriminate himself, by speaking of people who - unbeknown to him - really might have links with terrorism. He also sought assurances that everything he said was in confidence. He was asked to meet an MI5 lawyer called Simon. 'He gave me very solid assurances about confidentiality,' al-Rawi says. 'He promised they would even protect me and my family if they had to. He said that, if I was ever arrested, I should cooperate with the police. If a matter got to court, he would come as a witness and tell the truth.'
Last night MI5 declined to comment on this or other aspects of the case. Despite repeated and detailed requests, their spokesman did not return calls.
In December 2001, the government introduced the 2001 Terrorism Act, allowing foreign nationals such as Abu Qatada to be detained without charge. Shortly before it was passed, Qatada disappeared. Like most of his associates, al-Rawi had no idea of his whereabouts. But one day in early spring a stranger phoned and asked to meet him at a London mosque. He took him to a house where Qatada was staying. 'He asked me if I could help him find somewhere new.'
Through a friend, al-Rawi found him a flat near the river. 'Less than a week later I saw Alex in McDonald's. He asked me straight out: "Bisher, do you know where Abu Qatada is?" I thought to myself, if I was going to tell a lie, now was the time to do it. But I didn't. I said: "Yes, I do."' A few days later they met again, this time with Alex's boss, Martin. 'He seemed excited. Up till then the British authorities had no idea where Abu Qatada was.'
Al-Rawi told Qatada that he had informed MI5 that he knew where he was. 'He looked at me in amazement. He didn't like it, yet at the same time he tolerated it. I really thought I could bring them together.'
Al-Rawi acted as a messenger, shuttling from preacher to spy and back again. Finally, in early summer 2002, al-Rawi says, Qatada agreed to meet MI5, but barely had he informed his handlers of this when Qatada changed his mind. Soon afterwards al-Rawi got a final phone call from Alex. 'It was a brief conversation terminating our relationship. It was very tense, like breaking off with a girlfriend. He was pissed off, I was pissed off. But I was also relieved: it was a huge load off my shoulders.'
Later, after Qatada's arrest in October 2002, MI5 claimed in court that they had not known of his whereabouts for almost a year. Al-Rawi finds this implausible, as, he says, did his interrogators at Guantanamo. 'As I told Abu Qatada at the time, all they had to do is follow me on my motorbike.'
On 1 November, al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna and another friend, Abdullah el-Janoudi, a British citizen, were strolling to the gate at Gatwick airport to board their flight to Banjul, Gambia. Al-Rawi's brother, Wahhab, had plans to set up a peanut plant there and the three friends were flying to meet him. Wahhab had travelled ahead.
The previous evening, MI5 and the police had been to visit el-Banna and, according to an MI5 memo disclosed to his lawyers, tried to recruit him. He could, they said, 'start a new life with a new identity' and acquire British citizenship. He refused. But the officers promised that he could travel the next day 'without a problem' - and return to Britain afterwards.
It was not to be. The three men were stopped at the gate, searched, and detained for five days at Paddington Green police station. Searches of their homes confirmed, as further police documents state, that they contained no trace of explosives or other illegal materials, while the 'suspicious' device found in al-Rawi's luggage was, indeed, a battery charger.
While al-Rawi was being held, MI5 sent its first telegram to the CIA, describing the charger - which al-Rawi had modified to make it waterproof - as 'a timing device [that] could possibly be used as some part of a car-based IED [improved explosive device].' A second telegram three days later failed to correct this, repeating the claim that al-Rawi was 'an Islamic extremist' and saying the men would soon be on their way again.
In a report last week on the case, the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee cited testimony that it was given in secret from MI5, claiming that the service had sent 'caveats' with the telegrams asking for no action to be taken. These, it was clear, were ignored. With no evidence against them, the men were released without charge from Paddington Green and allowed to book new flights for the following Friday. But the telegrams had done their job. On arrival in Gambia on 8 November all three were held, together with Wahhab and his local agent, who had come to the airport to meet them.
Next morning al-Rawi came face to face with the Americans. A man who called himself Lee was the lead interrogator.
'From the beginning, the questions made it plain that the Americans had been given the contents of my own MI5 file, which was supposed to be confidential. Lee even told me the British were giving him information. I had agreed to help MI5 because I wanted to prevent terrorism, and now the information I had freely given them was being used against me in an attempt to prove that I myself was some kind of terrorist.'
He was accused of planning a Gambian terrorist training camp - in a tiny country where he knew no one. In his last week in Gambia, one of the Americans came to al-Rawi's cell and told him he was going to a US prison in Afghanistan - the process known as rendition. 'He told me: "We know you were working for MI5", and said if I told the truth I would get out.'
The Americans informed MI5 of the pending rendition, which breached international law, but the British did nothing to help their former agent. Wahhab and el-Janoudi, who were UK citizens, were released, but al-Rawi and el-Banna did not have the protection of British passports.
Al-Rawi and el-Banna - shackled, blindfolded and hooded - were taken to the airport, where two men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas cut off their clothes and removed their hoods. Al-Rawi describes what happened next. 'They dressed me in two layers of nappies and tracksuit bottoms and a top. Over that they put a harness, and shackled and cuffed me again, fixing the chains through the harness. They dragged me forcefully up the stairs and into the plane. They forced me on to a stretcher and tied me to it so tightly I could hardly move at all. There were belts restraining my feet, my legs and my body. They covered my eyes with a blindfold, and then goggles, and something over my ears. All the way through that flight I was on the border of screaming. At last we landed, I thought, thank God it's over. But it wasn't over. It was just a refuelling stop in Cairo. There were hours still to go.'
Arriving in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, they were driven to the CIA's 'dark prison' - a literal description. Al-Rawi's blindfold had been removed, but the darkness was absolute. The unheated cell was so cold he could feel ice crystals on the water he was occasionally given to drink. 'For three days or so I just sat in the corner, shivering. The only time there was light was when a guard came to check on me with a very dim torch - as soon as he'd detect movement, he would leave. I tried to do a few push-ups and jogged on the spot to keep warm. There was no toilet paper, but I tore off my nappies and tried to use them to clean myself. I kept telling myself: "They haven't killed me yet, this is good." You sleep and you wait.'
At last, after about a fortnight, they were taken to the American airbase at Bagram, 40 miles from Kabul, where the interrogations began again. On the way, 'they really beat me and Jamil up. Of course I was hooded, so I couldn't see anything. But you know how you see in cartoons when people get hit on the head and they see stars? I thought, ah, now I know what those cartoons mean. I saw stars.'
In Bagram, he and el-Banna came under pressure to incriminate Abu Qatada who by then was in prison in Britain, where he remains, now fighting deportation to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia of terrorist offences. Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who represents al-Rawi, Qatada and el-Banna, fears the real reason el-Banna has not been allowed back to Britain is a plan to send him to Jordan, where he too might testify against Qatada. Al-Rawi and el-Banna were taken to Guantanamo in March 2003. Like others released from there, al-Rawi describes a regime of isolation and casual brutality. For more than a year, until his release on 31 March this year, he was held in Camp 5, where communication between inmates is almost impossible. 'You want to speak to someone in Camp 5? No problem. All you have to do is scream your head off. It's like a cemetery.' One of the toughest periods came after three inmates committed suicide in June last year. For months the authorities retaliated by keeping the air conditioning turned to maximum. 'We were freezing the whole time. Other times they made it scorching hot.'
As the months became years, he sank into depression. 'One tried hard to be normal, to maintain balance. The thing was, the people around me were suffering so much, and in the end you can't help feeling pretty bad yourself. Jamil knew his mother wasn't well, and he begged to be allowed to phone her, to speak to her before she died. They refused, and she passed away last year.' MI5, it was evident, had not fulfilled its promise to help al-Rawi if he ever got into trouble. After he had been in Guantanamo for about six months, an officer came to see him. 'It was someone I hadn't seen before. He asked me: "Do you feel betrayed?"' Later his former handler, Alex, paid a visit: 'I suppose he was nice enough. He asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a book on base jumping. He never came back, and I never got the book.'
His last and strangest visit came from Matt and Martin. Despite the ordeal that their organisation had caused him, al-Rawi says they tried to recruit him again. 'They said, "You know, Bisher, if you agree to work for us when you get back to Britain, we'll get you out." They promised to return, but never did.'
There was to be yet another broken promise. When al-Rawi came before a Guantanamo tribunal to assess whether his detention was justified, he asked for Matt, Alex and Simon to corroborate his story as witnesses. The British refused to identify them, and the Americans said that, because he did not know their full, real names, they could not be traced.
Al-Rawi says he feels no bitterness towards America or Americans. MI5, however, has left him deeply disappointed. 'I used to think of them as cool, tough, as gentlemen. I used to speak about them in the Muslim community, saying they had a level of dignity and that we could trust them. When I got back home one of the first messages I got was from a friend who had heard me say that. He said: "Bisher, they weren't very honourable, were they?" I suppose he was right. All the credit for what I went through goes to them.'
America's Dark Secret
The Central Intelligence Agency was granted permission to use extraordinary rendition - one country moving its prisoners to another for interrogation - in a presidential directive signed by Bill Clinton in 1995. The practice has grown sharply since the 9/11 attacks.
Critics say the CIA renders suspects to avoid American laws prohibiting torture, even though many of those countries have, like the US, signed or ratified the UN Convention Against Torture.
The 'ghost detainees' are kept outside judicial oversight. Many have disappeared. Evidence suggests the CIA has rendered prisoners to countries including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Many European airports have been used to facilitate their transfer to such countries, say human rights groups which have obtained the flight logs of several planes leased by the CIA.
The practice is now exercising the minds of European legislators. Swiss senator Dick Marty released a report last year which concluded that as many as 100 people had been kidnapped by the CIA in Europe and rendered to a country where they may have been tortured.
The allegations have been denied by the White House, which insists no detainees held by the US have been tortured. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that 'rendition is a vital tool in combating transnational terrorism. Its use is not unique to the United States.'
But evidence from prisoners in Guantanamo suggests the US does practise interrogation techniques which many lawyers argue are tantamount to torture. The most notable is 'water-boarding', where detainees are tricked into believing they are going to drown. Interrogation methods during extraordinary rendition remain one of America's darkest secrets.