The allegations that intelligence agency MI5 colluded in the torture of British citizen Binyam Mohamed say a lot about both the security services and the New Labour government.
Mohamed, a British Islamist captured in Afghanistan and flown to Morocco for interrogation, says that his genitals were cut repeatedly and that he was hung by his wrists and beaten until he was sick. Claims have emerged that a British intelligence officer on the spot was aware of what was happening, but, when he wrote to London expressing his concerns, was told he was not required to intervene.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis claims that there are around 15 other cases suggesting collusion or complicity in torture by MI5 and MI6. The government has not only denied this, but defended the security services to the hilt - as has Kim Howells, the Labour head of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
We are in no position to make an informed assessment of the evidence, but many legal figures and civil liberties campaigners have done so - and it seems all too plausible. What should socialists say?
We should denounce the creeping legitimisation of torture and demand strict measures against it. There is a real threat from Islamist terrorism, but - even more than the suspension of civil liberties - the use of torture as a means of fighting it is incompatible with democracy and universal human rights. The logic of those who argue for it on utilitarian grounds - that while undesirable it may gain information that prevents widespread loss of life - has no possible end point. Why not torture a suspect's partner and children, or even engage in threats of collective punishment against whole communities? The only way to cut through this deadly logic is to outlaw such practices altogether.
We should call for a public enquiry into the allegations, and insist that this should not be held in secret. This is a call the government and the ISC are so far resisting. We should fight for labour movement representation on that inquiry.
We should demand the abolition of the secret police. MI5 and MI6, for all their pretence of 'openness' and modernity, are agencies through which the ruling class does its dirty work and which do not serve community interests in even the distorted way that the police, while also a ruling-class agency, are sometimes forced to do. We cannot call for the abolition of the police until we are in a position to replace them with something better, but we can and should demand the scrapping of the so-called security services - Britain's secret police.
Lastly, we should redouble our efforts to mobilise the labour movement against the leaders of the Labour Party - political barbarians who in their wholehearted loyalty to the capitalist state have allowed the Tories to present themselves as champions of civil liberties and human rights.