The Big Question: How is Britain implicated in the torture of terror suspects?

Author: By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs and Legal Editor

Why are we asking this now?

The former shadow home secretary David Davis used the legal protections of
parliamentary privilege to accuse British security services of “outsourcing
torture”. Mr Davis cited Rangzieb Ahmed, from Rochdale, an al-Qa’ida
leader who was jailed for life in the UK for directing terror. The
Conservative MP claims the security services allowed Ahmed to go to Pakistan
so they could alert the authorities who, he claims, arrested and tortured
him. Mr Davis said he had “a whole load of corroborative evidence”
to support his claim regarding Ahmed.

What exactly was the alleged role of the British security services?

Mr Davis said that although British police and the security services had
enough surveillance material to charge Ahmed, they still allowed him to go
to Pakistan. Once there, British intelligence suggested to the Pakistani
authorities he should be arrested. A list of questions to be put to Ahmed
was drawn up by the security services and Manchester police, said Mr Davis.
Ahmed has said he was whipped with tyre rubber, beaten with staves and had
three fingernails pulled out.

Is Rangzieb Ahmed the only alleged victim?

No. Government security sources have told newspapers that as many as 15
British suspects may have been rendered and tortured in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Bangladesh and north Africa. The most prominent allegations
have been made by a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, who was arrested in
Pakistan in 2002. Mr Mohamed, who has never been charged with a terrorism
offence, was questioned after being seized at Karachi airport in April 2002
travelling on a false passport. He was sent to an interrogation centre
where, he says, he was hung up for a week by a leather strap around his
wrists. Among his interrogators were officials from America’s CIA. He was
later visited by two British intelligence officers, one called John. The
torture stopped when they came, Mohamed said. He said John told him: “I’ll
see what we can do with the Americans.” He didn’t see John again.

Are there others?

Jamil Rahman, a British civil servant, claims Britain was complicit in
assault, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and breaches of human rights
legislation over his alleged ill-treatment while detained in Bangladesh. Mr
Rahman, who has never been charged with a terrorism offence, says that he
was the victim of repeated beatings over a period of more than two years at
the hands of Bangladeshi intelligence officers, and he claims that a pair of
MI5 officers were blatantly involved in his ordeal.

Has Britain been involved in rendition?

It depends how one defines rendition. If it is standing by while allowing
allies to unlawfully fly British terror suspects around the world the UK may
well be guilty. Mr Mohamed was flown to Morocco after being held
incommunicado in Pakistan, where he was interrogated by an MI5 officer. From
Morocco, he was rendered to Kabul’s notorious CIA prison where he says he
was held in darkness for weeks on end. MI5 telegrams to the CIA show
security service officers fed the US with information on Mr Mohamed when he
was allegedly being tortured in Morocco. MI5 has said it did not know where
he was or in what conditions because the CIA refused to say.

Is there more evidence?

Yes. There is further evidence that Britain has allowed its territory in Diego
Garcia to be used by the Americans to illegally transfer other suspects to
detention camps around the world. The British Foreign Secretary David
Miliband had to make an embarrassing admission to Parliament after the US
informed the Government that they were mistaken when they had previously
said that no suspects were flown to the Indian Ocean island.

Why did the British security services allow the Americans to interview UK

After 9/11 Britain got sucked into the the war on terror led by US security
services, which sanctioned the use of torture in certain circumstances. In
the immediate aftermath of the event, Tony Blair stated that Britain stood “shoulder
to shoulder” with the US administration and between 2002 and 2004 there
was an intimate sharing of intelligence information between the CIA and
their British counterparts. As their relationship closened, so British
citizens ended up under the control of US authorities. In a court case
involving Mr Mohamed, the ruling of two judges, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr
Justice Lloyd Jones, in 2008 was: “The relationship of the United
Kingdom Government to the United States authorities in connection with [Mr
Mohamed] was far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged

Are the police investigating?

They are. Scotland Yard has been asked to look at the allegations made by Mr
Mohamed to see whether MI5 officers are guilty of complicity in torture. The
Attorney General, Lady Scotland, said in a written statement that she had
given the allegations of possible criminal wrongdoing “very serious
consideration” and felt there were sufficient grounds to launch a
criminal investigation. But she stopped short of conceding a full judicial
inquiry, which many critics have demanded.

Have British agents been directly involved?

Yes. Shaker Aamer, a British resident who is still being held in Guantanamo
Bay, claims that an MI5 or an MI6 officer was present while he was being
tortured and abused by US agents in Afghanistan in 2002. Mr Aamer, 42, is a
Saudi citizen who has a British wife and five British children living in
south London. A claim letter sent to government lawyers alleges: “UK
intelligence services officers were present whilst Mr Aamer was beaten. They
provided information and encouragement to his US torturers. They made no
attempt to stop his ill-treatment or any enquiries into his well-being.”

What is Britain’s position on torture?

MI5 never officially comment. However, the position of the UK Government is
that it condemns torture, in line with the United Nations Convention Against
Torture, which we signed up for in the 1980s. Officially, the last torture
warrant issued in England was in 1641. More recently the Prime Minister has
announced a review into MI5 operations.

What will happen next?

The Liberal Democrats and the human rights charity Reprieve, who represent Mr
Mohamed, are already demanding a full judicial enquiry into the role of
Britain’s security and intelligence services. Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat
foreign affairs spokesman said: “These are incredibly serious
allegations of complicity in barbaric acts of torture and breaches of
international law. There must be complete faith in the way the investigation
is carried out if the public’s trust, and Britain’s standing in the world,
is ever to be restored.”

How high does the scandal go?

It is impossible to say but it seems unlikely that Britain officers and agents
were acting without recourse to authorities high in government. Of
particular interest is what the former foreign secretary Jack Straw knew of
the involvement of security and intelligence services activity between 2002
and 2004. It seems almost inconceivable that when alarm bells started
sounding about the US treatment of detainees in the war on terror, senior
British politicians were not kept in the loop.

Does Britain outsource torture?


* There are more than one or two isolated cases of Britain’s alleged
complicity in torture and rendition

* Britain was very close to the US at the start of the war on terror and
turned a blind eye to CIA excesses

* MI5 agents admit they sent questions to their CIA counterparts to help them
question suspects


* No case has proved that any UK suspect was tortured by a third-party state
on the instructions of British agents

* The security and intelligence services don’t believe that torture delivers
truthful information

* At worst UK agents are guilty of not asking questions of foreign agencies

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