Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

2  Allegations of torture involving the UK

Pakistan allegations

6. Allegations about the possible involvement of the security services in the torture and mistreatment of UK nationals in Pakistan were first brought to our attention by the editor of the Guardian in August 2008.[6] Mr Ian Cobain of the Guardian subsequently submitted a memorandum to us in which he said that his newspaper had:

been reporting upon allegations that a number of British terrorists and terrorism suspects have been detained in Pakistan and suffered severe treatment amounting to torture. These individuals say that they have been questioned by British intelligence officials after, in some cases in between, periods of mistreatment. They and their families, and in some cases their legal advisers, say they have been forced to conclude that British officials may have been responsible for their detention and have colluded in their mistreatment.[7]

7. Mr Cobain claims that there "have been at least eleven British nationals and dual nationals detained" in Pakistan and questioned about terrorism allegations since 2000, although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has stated that only eight British or dual nationals have been held in such circumstances.[8] His memorandum gives details of seven of the men, as summarised below:

  • MSS, a UK-born doctor of Pakistani origin, who had arranged to spend some time working in a hospital in Pakistan in 2005. He claims to have been abducted, questioned about the bombings in London on 7 July 2005, tortured, and forced to witness the torture of others. He says that towards the end of his detention and torture he was questioned by two British intelligence officers.[9]
  • Rangzieb Ahmed, a UK-born convicted terrorist, who was detained in Pakistan between 2006 and 2007. He claims to have been tortured, including by having his fingernails removed, and that during this process he was interviewed by UK officials who specified that they were not consular officials. During his trial, the assertion that the police and security services passed questions to the Pakistani intelligence agency was heard in closed session. This issue was not addressed by the judge in his open judgment, but the judge concluded that although Mr Ahmed was kept in inhumane conditions before he was interviewed by UK officials he was not physically injured.[10] Mr Ahmed's case was the subject of a recent adjournment debate in the House of Commons, initiated by Rt Hon David Davis MP.[11]
  • Zeeshan Siddiqui, a UK-born man with "some history of mental illness" who is associated with a number of terrorists. He was held in Pakistan between 2005 and 2006 and claims to have been severely mistreated before being interviewed six times by British intelligence officers and once by a consular official.[12]
  • Salahuddin Amin, a UK-born terrorist, convicted in 2007 of planning to attack numerous targets in the UK, including the Bluewater shopping centre. Mr Amin alleged that he was tortured during his detention in Pakistan between 2004 and 2005 and that British intelligence officials interviewed him several times in between periods of torture. Before his trial began, the judge ruled that Amin's treatment had been "oppressive" but said he did not believe his allegations of torture.[13]
  • Tariq Mahmood, a UK-born man who disappeared in Pakistan in 2003 and who it is now thought lives in Dubai. Family members claim Mr Mahmood was tortured while held in Pakistan in 2003-04 and that the UK was involved.[14]
  • Tahir Shah, a UK-born man who was detained in Pakistan for 16 days, shortly after the July 2005 bombings in London. Mr Shah claims to have been treated inhumanely and that, on his return to the UK, his passport was returned by an unnamed official who Mr Shah "assumed … to have been from the Security Service".[15]
  • Rashid Rauf, a Pakistan-born man with UK nationality who was detained in Pakistan in 2006 on terrorism charges. Mr Rauf claimed to family members that he was tortured in the presence of people speaking in English and American accents. Mr Rauf was later cleared of the charges before being subject to extradition proceedings.[16] He later disappeared in somewhat mysterious circumstances before it was announced that he was killed, on 22 November 2008, following a US missile strike close to the Afghan-Pakistan border.[17]

8. Mr Cobain's allegations were supported by Human Rights Watch, which had also investigated the cases of Messrs Amin, Siddiqui and Ahmed.[18] It concluded that "not only did the British government effectively condone torture by putting questions to detainees in ISI [the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence] custody and by visiting detainees who had obviously been tortured without halting cooperating in those cases, the conduct of the ISI has interfered with attempts to prosecute these individuals in British courts".[19] Human Rights Watch claim that Rashid Rauf was tortured so badly he could not have been tried in the UK.[20]

Egypt allegations

9. Mr Cobain submitted a further memorandum about the case of Azhar Khan, an associate of several terrorists and terrorism suspects. He has claimed, via an intermediary, that he was "questioned, under torture, on the basis of information that must have been supplied by the UK authorities" during a visit to Egypt in July 2008.[21] Mr Cobain's memorandum also referred to the possibility of there being another person detained in the UK at the same time as Mr Khan whom MI5 were interested in and whom "there was every possibility" would be tortured.[22]

Binyam Mohamed

10. Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian national who was resident in the UK before being arrested in Pakistan as a terrorism suspect in 2002. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004 before being released in February 2009.[23]

11. The US brought terrorism charges against Mr Mohamed in May 2008, as a result of which Mr Mohamed brought proceedings against the UK Government seeking disclosure of potentially exculpatory material.[24] This led to a series of High Court judgments relating to the case, which is still continuing. In August 2008, the High Court found that the UK security services "facilitated interviews" in Pakistan of Binyam Mohamed, the only remaining former British resident then being detained at Guantanamo Bay, while he was being detained unlawfully and without access to a lawyer, by providing information and questions. The High Court found that:

by seeking to interview BM in the circumstances described and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship of the United Kingdom Government to the United States authorities in connection with BM was far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.[25]

12. This judgment, and some of the evidence on which it was based, particularly the evidence of a security service agent, "Witness B", led the Home Secretary in October 2008 to refer the question of possible criminal wrongdoing to the Attorney General. On 26 March 2009, she invited the Metropolitan Police to commence a criminal investigation.[26]

Mr Craig Murray

13. Mr Craig Murray was the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. His memorandum and subsequent oral evidence alleged that:

  • the Uzbek authorities used torture to a "staggering extent" against suspected political or religious dissidents;[27]
  • the information provided under torture was largely planted by the Uzbek authorities, to exaggerate the scale of the terrorist threat in central Asia and provide a firm link to Al-Qaida;[28]
  • the CIA intelligence from Tashkent "was giving precisely the same narrative" and therefore may also have been derived from torture and be inaccurate;[29] and
  • the US Embassy confirmed to Mr Murray's deputy that the CIA intelligence "probably did come from torture" but, in the War on Terror, this was not considered to be a problem.[30]

14. Mr Murray raised his concerns with the FCO and was recalled to a meeting on the issue in March 2003. He stated that he was told:

  • there was nothing in UNCAT to prohibit receipt, or possible receipt, of information obtained using torture. This view was latter confirmed in a telegram from Sir Michael Wood, the Legal Adviser at the Foreign Office;[31]
  • the UK had a valuable intelligence sharing agreement with the US covering all material and it would not be in the UK's interest to restrict this agreement to specific categories of material;[32]
  • the Security Services regarded the Uzbek intelligence as useful;[33] and
  • the final intelligence report issued by the Security Services excluded the name of the detainee interrogated, so it was not possible to prove that torture was involved in any particular piece of intelligence.[34]

Mr Murray went on to argue that the policy on the use of intelligence had changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.[35] He recalled a "clear direction" from the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "not to use any intelligence that might have come from torture" in the run up to the first Gulf War.[36] In his view, Ministers were aware that they were receiving intelligence material derived from torture and Jack Straw MP, the then Foreign Secretary, had read and discussed his telegrams on the subject.[37]

15. Mr Murray's allegations are significantly different to those relating to the possible use of torture in Pakistan and Egypt outlined above. He said there was no evidence of British nationals or residents being mistreated in Uzbekistan and no suggestion that British agents were meeting detainees in Uzbekistan or passing on questions for use by interrogators.[38] His claim, supported by the memorandum from Sir Michael Wood, is that the UK Government turned a blind eye to the provenance of intelligence which was almost certainly derived from torture in Uzbekistan, partly because it might have been useful but principally to preserve a valuable intelligence sharing agreement with the US. The importance of this agreement to the UK Government has also been a factor in the litigation involving Binyam Mohamed.[39]

16. Mr Murray was a convincing witness when he appeared before us and his allegations are supported by some documentary evidence. His credibility has not been enhanced by his somewhat bizarre dealings with the Committee, however. When he first approached us about giving oral evidence we asked him for a written memorandum, which is standard practice for select committees. His response was to publish a story on his blog entitled "Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Commission Struck By Cowardice" which alleged that we were consulting party whips about how to deter him from giving oral evidence.[40] This was entirely untrue, as our subsequent decision to ask him to give oral evidence, despite his comments, demonstrated. In May, Mr Murray published further comments on his blog, suggesting that our Chair was a "stooge" of the Uzbek regime and had somehow been implicated in his dismissal as UK ambassador.[41] Again, these comments are entirely without substance and may only serve to damage Mr Murray's credibility and reputation.

6   Ev 30. Back

7   Ev 46, paragraph 1. Back

8   Annex to Ian Cobain memorandum, January 2009, p. 47, paragraph 24, and see Ev 79-81 and oral evidence given by the Foreign Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 15 June 2009, HC557-ii, Q112. Back

9   Ev 47-48, paragraphs 16-25. Back

10   Ev 48-49, paragraphs 26-37. And see Ev 34. Back

11   HC Deb, 7 Jul 09, cc940-48. Back

12   Ev 49, paragraphs 38-43. Back

13   Ev 39-40, paragraphs 44-48 and see Ev 34. Back

14   Ev 50, paragraphs 49-53. Back

15   Ev 50, paragraphs 54-55. Back

16   Ev 50-51, paragraphs 56-59. Back

17   Annex to Ian Cobain memorandum, January 2009, p. 46-47, paras 20-23 and see letter from the Home Secretary, 22 December 2008, Ev 31. Back

18   Ev 45-46, pp12-13. Back

19   Ev 43, p6. The ISI is the Pakistani intelligence service. Back

20   Ibid. Back

21   Ev 51, paragraph 5. Back

22   Ev 54, paragraph 29. Back

23   For information about his release, see HC Deb, 24 Feb 09, cc18-19WS. Back

24   HC Deb, 5 Feb 09, c989-91. Back

25   R (on the application of Binyam Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2008] EWHC 2048 (Admin) (21 August 2008) paragraphs 87-88.  Back

26   HL Deb, 26 Mar 09, cWS51. Back

27   Ev 55. Back

28   Ibid. Back

29   Ibid. Back

30   Ibi. Back

31   Ev 55-56 and Q98. Back

32   Ev 56 and Q150. Back

33   Ev 56 and Qq87-90. Back

34   Ev 56 conclusion 4. Back

35   Q114. Back

36   Qq85-86, 94. Back

37   Q120 and Qq96, 103. Back

38   Qq 80, 82-3. Back

39   For example, see HC Deb, 5 Feb 09, c990. Back

40 Back

41 Back

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