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Shocking Story of How the US Ignored International Law to Become World's Kidnapper and Torturer

An excerpt from the new book, 'Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture.'

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Black’s plan was presented to the President and his war cabinet in a series of meetings during the days after the attacks. On Monday 17 September, Bush signed off the paperwork: with a stroke of his pen the CIA was granted the power of life and death over al-Qaida suspects and could arrange for men to be detained and tortured indefinitely. All this, Bush later said, was to remain invisible.

A few hours afterwards there was a brief glimpse of the manner in which the United States would disregard the restraints of international law when responding to the attacks. Speaking at a press conference, Bush said: ‘There’s an old poster out West that says, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”’ The President then checked himself before saying that those responsible for the murderous attacks should be brought to justice.

Cofer Black’s master plan had already been presented to the CIA’s closest overseas allies. The evening before Bush signed off, Black and a handful of other senior CIA officers went to the British embassy on Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue, where they told senior British intelligence officers what was about to happen.

At the end of Black’s three-hour presentation, his opposite number at MI6, Mark Allen, commented dryly that it all sounded ‘rather blood-curdling’. Allen also expressed concern that once the Americans had ‘hammered the mercury in Afghanistan’, al-Qaida would simply scatter across South Asia and the Middle East, destabilising entire regions. Black was dressed in the same suit he had been wearing five days earlier and was clearly exhausted, but he appeared to relish the vicious retaliation he had planned. He told Allen that all the CIA cared about at that moment was killing terrorists. One of the CIA officers at the meeting, Tyler Drumheller, could see that while the British appeared laid-back, ‘it was clear they were worried, and not without reason’. According to one account, even Black joked that one day they might all be prosecuted. But the CIA’s closest ally had been put on notice: the British could never honestly claim that they did not know what was about to unfold.

Shortly afterwards Allen departed for London, where Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw were waiting to be briefed on the Americans’ plans.

At the end of September 2001, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1373, which required member states to do more to assist the US and each other in eliminating international terrorism and called for a series of measures ‘in conformity with the relevant provisions of national and international law’.

The need to maintain a lawful response to the horrors of the al-Qaida attacks was stressed again and again throughout the resolution, but it was already too late. By then, Dick Cheney had said publicly that the United States was going to ‘work through sort of the dark side’ and that ‘it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective’.

On 2 October, members of NATO met at the organisation’s headquarters at Brussels and agreed that they should invoke Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, under which an attack on one member is to be regarded as an attack on all. At a second meeting two days later, the US representatives presented a number of specific requests, all of which were granted in a series of agreement documents that the US had itself drafted. Eight of those requests have since been made public. They included enhanced intelligence sharing, taking ‘necessary measures to increase security’ and granting blanket over-flight clearances for the United States and other allies’ aircraft for military flights engaged in counterterrorism operations. However, NATO has since admitted that a number of other requests were granted; all of them remain secret.

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