THE BLOG
08/18/2010 05:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

New CIA Interrogation Tapes Hint at Legal 'Loophole' Allowing the US to Outsource Torture

The CIA has produced new video-tapes showing the interrogations of Guantánamo Bay prisoner Ramzi bin al-Shibh while he was being held at a secret CIA prison in Morocco in 2002. The stash of tapes - found under a desk at the CIA's counter-terrorism office - reveal that there is more evidence of the CIA's torture programme than has previously been admitted, and hint at the central role played by Morocco in the secret prison system .

Worryingly for President Obama, the tapes indicate that the CIA's arrangement with Morocco most likely falls outside the scope of his swathe of 2009 executive orders, intended to curb the worst of the agency's detention practices. The orders forbade the CIA from torturing prisoners or running secret prisons abroad. Yet while the secret facility in which bin al-Shibh was interrogated was officially run by Moroccans, with Moroccan agents carrying out the torture, it was largely financed by the CIA - who could move prisoners in and out at will, oversee interrogations and provide questions they wanted asked. Such shadowy arrangements may be slipping beneath the radar even now.

This set-up rings bells here in the UK because it is very much like that used for the detention and torture in Morocco of various British prisoners, including Binyam Mohamed, who suffered medieval abuse at the hands of his Moroccan torturers. We have known for years that British personnel were regulars in US military prisons such as Guantánamo Bay and Bagram Airforce Base. But if the British are found to have been taking advantage of a CIA-run facility in Morocco, it would raise difficult questions for the UK. It would bring to light British knowledge of the CIA prisons and interrogation practices worldwide, something that has always been denied.

The release of the CIA tapes comes days after reports that other prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah, were taken for CIA detention in Morocco in early 2004. Abu Zubaydah was the first official guinea-pig for the unlawful interrogation techniques developed by the CIA for its 'high-value detainee' programme, including the "facial slap", "cramped confinement", "stress positions" and "the waterboard" (as outlined in this memo). The Assistant Attorney General at the time, Jay Bybee, advised CIA lawyers that these techniques could be legally practised by American agents. However, Morocco's central role in the programme meant that even more brutal methods could be employed at the CIA's behest, methods that undoubtedly amounted to unlawful torture even by the Bush administration's accommodating standards.

It has been suggested that there are still more interrogation tapes to be revealed, and that some of them may have been sent over email, possibly all around the world. No doubt, the truth will inexorably reveal itself, and the impending UK inquiry into torture complicity should play a part in that process. These latest hints about Morocco show why the UK inquiry must have a broad frame of reference, and examine facts about UK complicity beyond Guantánamo Bay and the Afghan prisons.