Gareth Peirce: Dispatches from the dark side – on torture and the death of justice

Civil liberties defence lawyer Gareth Peirce has undertaken some of modern Britain’s most high profile cases, representing many wrongfully detained individuals (largely with Irish and Muslim backgrounds) subject to rendition and torture.  Her clients include the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Moazzam Begg, a detainee of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and Shakar Aamer, the last British citizen to be held in Guantanamo. She addressed a large crowd of students, educators and activists alike on 17 February, as part of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights’ program of events at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Her book, Dispatches from the Dark side: on Torture and the Death of Justice lends its name to the title of her lecture, and will expand in more detail on the subject topics discussed.

Evidence exists to suggest that the British government has colluded in a range of extrajudicial activities, including torture, and has gone to lengths to conceal its actions. In Dispatches from the Dark Side: on Torture and the Death of Justice, Peirce analyses this evidence, supporting it with her own experiences of working in the civil liberties field.

As part of her talk, Peirce brought to light the British government’s involvement in and complicity with, torture, unlawful internment and arbitrary detention, rendition, criticising the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his colleagues, for their policies in the infamous War on Terror. Notably, Blair’s call for ‘exceptionalism’ in this ‘war unlike any other’ is called into question, as Peirce subtly denounced their Manichean world view in the context of the ‘West’ against the current ‘enemy unlike any other’ – the ‘radical Islamists’. Peirce explained that such policies were first introduced in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, when Blair called for urgent discussion regarding changes to our civil liberties here in the UK – supposedly for our protection.

With quiet authority Peirce then advanced to talk about her direct experiences of working with detainees subject to unlawful detention in Guantanamo, and victims of Blair’s new policy of ‘exceptionalism’. Her current client, Shakar Aamer, is a long term British resident of Guantanamo Bay, who has been subject to sustained, continuing inhuman and degrading treatment – by no other than MI5 officers, working for the British Security Service. Such treatment, whilst lacking any legality, has included lengthy interrogations, exposure to extreme cold, sensory deprivation, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation, long term solitary confinement, and force feeding. He has been charged with absolutely no offence, having twice been ‘approved for transfer’. Two successive British governments have failed to achieve his return to the UK – where his wife and children currently reside. Amnesty International have called Aamer’s ongoing incarceration a ‘mockery of justice’. However his story is not uncommon, as Peirce demonstrated, armed with countless case studies of men who had been similarly detained in a range of locations from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and exposed to cruel and degrading treatment by organisations such as MI5 and MI6 (who work closely with MI5 in counter-terrorism, and focus on foreign terrorist threats).

Well. As Gareth herself has (apparently, on another occasion) said – ‘This has all been a chaotic mess’. It seems as though it’s become fairly routine.

Radha Bhatt

Listen to Gareth Peirce’s talk at the LSE below – This article and audio will be particularly useful for the unit 2 civil liberties/judiciary topic. 

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