Mark Steel: The need for a modern free market in torture

Before long there'll be league tables so customers can decide which torturer to attend
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The Independent Online

However unlucky you are to get taken hostage, some hostages are unluckier than others. Omar Deghayes, a resident of Brighton, has been held for more than three years and has received hardly any publicity at all. Maybe he needs a better agent.

Or could it be that instead of being held in Iraq, he is being held in Guantanamo Bay?

He was arrested in Lahore while with his wife and daughter, and after some warm-up torture in Pakistan, was moved to Guantanamo Bay. He was never charged, and it was two years before his captors announced the reason for his detention. It seems they'd seen a training video for Chechen rebels, and believed he was on it, though everyone who's seen it since agrees there's no one on it who looks anything like him. The American military will probably argue this displays the shortcomings of video evidence - it shows the people who are there but leaves out the people who aren't there.

And this allows suspects to escape justice. If he was in an al-Qa'ida video they could have released him and kept track of him, but instead, if they let him go he'd be free not to be in another guerilla training film, and then they'd have no idea where he was.

But apart from not being in the film, is it likely that someone running around training with Chechen rebels would take their wife and daughter along? Do they say to their wives, "I've got to spend a week up an Afghan mountain waving a kalashnikov and shouting 'Death to infidels', but I get the evenings off so I thought you and the kids could come with me and we'll make a mini-break out of it"? Maybe you can get a special weekend deal with a Family Taliban card.

In any case, Omar was then tortured, and his accounts have now been related to his lawyer. There were the run-of-the-mill electrodes, but also a variety of more imaginative methods, including being left in a cage with poisonous snakes. Most spectacularly, after one attack he was permanently blinded in one eye. Now, the authorities will probably say: "We can hardly accept his testimony as credible. After all he's blind in one eye." (More details of Omar's case are available on

The British Foreign Office, you may imagine, would be dealing with this case, but they're not. This is because Omar fled here from Libya as a young man, after his father was executed for organising opposition to Colonel Gaddafi. He was granted asylum, but as a British resident, not a citizen. So the US and Britain agreed, for representation he would have to apply to the Libyan government for "consular intervention". In effect, this gives him the option of remaining in a cage run by people who blinded him, or being handed over to those who shot his father. Perhaps this is a modern free market strategy towards torture, offering victims a choice of who's going to attack them.

Before long there'll be league tables published, so customers can decide which torturer to attend, and middle-class victims will move into a better catchment area so they're eligible for the electrodes that have shown the better results.

Eventually, torture will be privatised for maximum efficiency, as the numbers enjoying this service are growing to levels it was never intended for. And it's only fair that prisoners such as Omar will be charged a supplement for "exotic" methods, such as poisonous snakes.

To complete the irony, the authorities at Guantanamo Bay have allowed the Libyan authorities into the camp to interrogate him. Because Libya and America are friends now. Choosing who's on which side in the war on terror is like picking teams at school. Each day it's different according to the whim of the boy doing the picking.

A while ago America would say, "Saddam, you're on our side. I'm not having Libya, you're crap", and now it's the other way round. So Omar is unable to defend himself against the accusation of terrorism, because he's not considered a citizen as he had to flee a regime the Americans used to call a cesspit of terrorism, until they changed their minds. Let's hope he sees the funny side.

Or at least that he learns the rules of torture. That we deplore it to the extent we'll occupy a country for practising it, then if necessary, in order to ensure the defeat of the torturing regime, we'll torture people. Then we'll enlist dictators in this struggle, ignoring their record of torture, and, to make plain our unyielding opposition to torture, we'll torture our own residents, even inviting torturers from nations we'd previously occupied for their record on torture.

And to make sure our troops are tough enough to administer this stern rejection of torture, we'll let them hold initiation ceremonies in which they torture each other. And if you're not with us, you're against us.