Our morally bankrupt government is preparing to argue that foreign officials who commit torture abroad should be immune from civil action in the British courts. Their favourite lawyer Christopher Greenwood (the one who informed the attorney-general that the Iraq war was legal) will be putting this argument forward in defence of Saudi Arabian officials accused of detaining and torturing four British citizens in Saudi jails.
The situation came about because the House of Lords ruled that while the state of Saudi Arabia is immune from compensation claims for torture (which is in itself a severely dodgy principle), the individual officials who actually committed the acts of torture are not. Sandy Mitchell, Les Walker and Bill Sampson were accused of a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia six years ago. They claim that they were tortured into giving a confession on Saudi TV. Ron Jones was taken from a Saudi hospital after a bombing and accused of planting the bomb that injured him. The fact that he was tortured has been confirmed by independent testimony. His hands and feet were beaten, he was given mind-altering drugs, deprived of sleep and suspended for long periods from his hands. One of the other men was apparently raped, and a number of them have sustained serious damage to their hearts as a result of their treatment and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. However, all of the men were later released when it became apparent that they were all totally innocent of the crimes. Now they are trying to get compensation for their treatment. Until this ruling, there had been immunity for torturers who committed their offences outside the UK. They cannot, of course, bring criminal charges because it is not illegal to use torture in Saudi Arabia.
The British government has always supported.... yes you guessed it, the Saudis. After all, the government was happy to argue that evidence obtained from torture could be used in British Courts (the fairly obvious fact that people could be made to admit to anything under torture doesn´t seem to have occurred to them). Now they have formally argued that the torturers cannot be held responsible for their crimes, even in a civil court.
A lawyer representing one of the men noted "the inevitable conclusion is that they are supporting the right of torturers to continue to torture with impunity" he further noted "The Americans have specific laws to allow torture victims to sue wherever the torture happened. We don´t, and the government is trying to argue against the court of appeal judgment that established those rights."
But the government has responded "The UK government condemns torture in all its forms and works to eradicate it wherever it occurs. The intervention in this case is not about criminal responsibility for torture, nor about the UK government´s attitude to torture. It concerns jurisdiction, and the way in which civil damages can be sought against a foreign state for acts allegedly committed in its own territory." But perhaps what they wanted to say is "we don´t want to fall out with Saudi Arabia, we consider it useful to gain information from torture and we will do it ourselves if we can get the law changed."