Sunday, March 26, 2006

Small beer for a poison plot

Qaeda Tested Poison Beer, Burger Plot

The above report from CBS concerns a trial that has received reasonably high profile coverage here in the UK. I've avoided commenting on the slow emergence of cases like this when arguably the greater issue is those who remain detained uncharged and with no recourse at all to a "court of law". There is however, something in this summary that gave me pause for thought.

Here we have a trial in Britain where a key witness is provided by the Amerikan FBI, escorted by US marshals and protected under armed guard by our authorities. We have defendants charged with very serious acts of plotting terrorism whilst some of the allegations made by this witness seem more like schoolyard fantasies.

I'm trying, for example, to image the laborious process of injecting thousands of beer cans with what must be a very slow-acting poison, stickering over each broken seal and then taking them to a football match for sale. In an age where terror threats come from committed suicide attacks by those duped into the pursuit of a false martyrdom, this seems like "small fry" indeed.

The ITN-produced "More 4 News" on British television has adopted a "watch" policy on news about "rendition flights" or other CIA misbehaviour. Although Jack Straw tells us that no such requests have been made in the post-9/11 era, the programme's pointed out this week that other documentation is routinely required that would indicate whether these flights did include prisoners on the passenger lists. If, as suspected, the US are arranging for their victims to be tortured, it is of grave concern.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of conducting torture, I've always held that it is pointless in its purpose. Under such conditions, a suspect will probably agree to anything and possibly fabricate evidence just to stop the pain. The reliability of information garnered this way is thus highly suspect and of little real value in intelligence terms. If anything, it could be so misleading as to have the opposite effect of the avowed intent.

If torture is going on however, it occurs to me that there is one instance where it may serve its purpose - albeit a highly corrupt purpose at that. It is in the creation of a false witness. Under threat of torture, it is easy to conceive of a victim who would resort to fabrication of facts and it takes little streach of the imagination to realise that, under present security conditions, such a person could be produced as a witness in a purposely- compromised court of law.

There is of course no evidence itself that this is happening, but the possibility raises questions that need to be addressed. I, for one, remain slightly cautious about the dubious evidence mentioned in the above article, particularly given that it appears to be comprised of annecdotes merely tangential to the gravity of the real issue.


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