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

Memorandum submitted by Ian Cobain, The Guardian


  1.  Over the past two years The Guardian has been reporting upon allegations that a number of British terrorists and terrorism suspects have been detained in Pakistan and suffered severe mistreatment 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 advisors, say they have been forced to conclude that British officials may have been responsible for their detention and have colluded in their mistreatment.

2.  The Guardian has investigated these allegations as best it can. Given that acts of torture are generally surrounded by secrecy and denial, and that those who are victims of torture can be expected to be terrified of speaking openly, this was never going to be an easy matter. With so much evidence relating to these matters being heard in camera, and kept in `closed' court judgements, and with the Prison Service attempting to prevent us from visiting some of those making the allegations, the task has been particularly difficult.

3.  In a leading article published on 15 July, the Guardian described the questions raised by its news reports on these allegations as being "at the heart of the difficulties which terrorism poses for democracies". It also said that an investigation into such allegations by those bodies responsible for the oversight of the country's intelligence agencies is "the least a democracy expects".

  4.  The aim of this memorandum is to introduce members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to these allegations, to some of the facts that may tend to support them, and to some other related matters.

  5.  Some of the matters complained of by those making the allegations are not contested; others are. I believe that if the allegations are examined together, rather than in isolation, a pattern emerges that may indicate where the truth lies.


  6.  The Committee will be aware that law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Pakistan have been responsible for serious abuses of human rights, and that these abuses have been well documented for a number of years. Among the organisations that have reported on these matters are the United Nations, the United States State Department, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Pakistani Parliamentarians' Commission for Human Rights.

7.  The torture of detainees is no great secret in Pakistan. In conversations with other media, particularly the Agence France-Press news agency, government officials have been more-or-less open about it. Victims of torture are regularly photographed as they arrive at court, showing clear signs of their mistreatment. In July 2006, Pakistan's most widely-read English language newspaper, Dawn, took the principal Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), to task in an editorial in which it said the agency had "over-stepped all limits", and that "running torture chambers" was not part of its remit.

  8.  In October 1996, Nigel Rodley, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, reported on the "endemic, widespread and systematic" use of torture in the country. The methods used, he reported, included "rape, beatings with sticks, hose-pipes, leather belts and rifle butts, kicking with heavy boots, being hung upside down, electric shocks to the genitalia and knees, cheera (forced stretching apart of the victim's legs, sometimes in combination with kicks to the genitalia), sleep deprivation, prolonged blindfolding and boring of holes with an electric drill into parts of the victim's body".

  9.  Four years after Rodley's report, the London-based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture reported on 51 clients whose torture in Pakistan had been medically documented: almost all had been beaten or whipped, more than a third while suspended, usually upside down.

  10.  In February 2004, Amnesty International wrote an open letter to Pervez Musharraf raising concerns about the treatment of non-Pakistanis suspected of al-Qaida membership. Later that month, the US State Department was reporting that Pakistani "security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country".

  11.  Rodley, or Sir Nigel as he now is, believes the methods of torture that he detailed to be still in use in Pakistan. He has told the Guardian that he believes that any British officials operating in Pakistan who claimed not to be aware of the manner in which detainees are likely to be treated while being questioned during counter-terrorism investigations would be displaying "wilful ignorance".[1]

  12.  After the attacks on London's transport network on July 7 2005, Pakistani authorities announced that they had detained around 800 people for questioning.


  13.  The British nationals whom we know to have made allegations of British collusion in mistreatment, or whose relatives or lawyers have made such allegations, were held in Pakistan over a four-year period between late 2003 and late 2007.

14.  Some have given accounts of their alleged mistreatment in court or in media interviews. Other accounts have been relayed to us second-hand, or even third-hand, and are sketchy.

  15.  There are some similarities between their accounts, between the locations at which they have been detained, for example, or between their descriptions of the rooms in which they say they were tortured, or between the form of words that they say British intelligence officers have used to introduce themselves for the first time.


  16.  This man is a doctor currently working at a hospital on the south coast of England. He appears to the Guardian to remain traumatised by his experiences, and he and his family appear to be frightened both of the British Security Service and Pakistani intelligence agencies. He and his family have asked that I do not disclose his name.

17.  MSS was born in London in 1981. His family's Member of Parliament, John McDonnell, is a friend of his father; Mr McDonnell says he has known MSS almost since birth.

  18.  MSS studied medicine in London. At the end of his fourth year of studies, he and his fellow students were encouraged to spend some weeks working at another hospital, preferably overseas. Both of MSS's parents are of Pakistani origin, and he arranged to work at the Ziauddin Memorial Hospital in Karachi.

  19.  MSS travelled to Pakistan shortly after the 7 July 2005 suicide attacks. On the evening of 20 August while eating with colleagues at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the city, he was approached by three armed men wearing civilian clothes who bundled him into a waiting car and drove off.

  20.  MSS's family in the UK were told that he had been abducted. They informed Mr McDonnell, who contacted the Foreign Office and the Metropolitan Police. Neither were able to tell him who was holding MSS.

  21.  MSS's father travelled to Karachi, where he spent almost two months looking for his son. He says that he made frequent contact with the office of the UK's Deputy High Commission in Karachi, but says he formed the impression that they were not particularly interested in his son's plight, and not helpful. He says that he eventually learned, through contacts in the city, that his son was being held by one of Pakistan's intelligence agencies, the Intelligence Bureau (IB). He says that he made contact with the IB, and was eventually told that his son would be released to him. He says that he waited at a designated location in the city, where a van pulled up. Inside were one uniformed police officer and several men in plain clothes. Once inside, he says, there was a brief discussion as to whether a hood should be placed over his head, and it was decided that he could remain unhooded as long as he lowered his head and did not look out of the window. He says he was driven into a compound and taken into a room, where four intelligence officers apologised to him. He says he was then introduced to a man identified as the director of the IB, who also apologised to him.

  22.  He says his son was then brought into the room. MSS and his father say they were then put back into the van and driven to a relative's home, before flying to London the next day. MSS's father says that as he was driven from the building where his son had been held, he looked out of the window and saw that the British Deputy High Commission's offices were on the opposite side of the road.

  23.  MSS says that he was detained at just one location though-out his detention; that he was beaten, whipped, deprived of sleep and forced to witness the torture of other detainees. He says that he was questioned only about the attacks on London of the previous month. He says that towards the end of his detention and torture he was questioned by two British intelligence officers.

  24.  The Guardian decided that it needed to visit Karachi, to establish whether an IB facility might located opposite the British Deputy High Commission.

  25.  A freelance journalist, Waqar Kiani, travelled there from Islamabad on 5 July last year. Waqar quickly established that one of the buildings opposite the Deputy High Commission is well-known to be the local headquarters of the IB. Unfortunately he aroused the suspicion of those inside. Men emerged from the building on motorcycles and chased him through Karachi until he sought refuge in a police station. On his return to Islamabad the following day, Waqar found that his apartment had been broken into and searched. He then received two threatening calls on his mobile telephone from a man who accused him of being a "British agent" and told him that he must "face the consequences" for his actions. There were consequences for Waqar, which I have outlined in my second memorandum.

Rangzieb Ahmed

  26.  Ahmed was born in Rochdale in 1975. He has spent much of his life in Pakistan. He was in prison in India between April 1994 and July 2001, after being detained in Kashmir. He is a self-professed member of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a terrorist organisation proscribed in the UK, and in December last year, after a trial at Manchester Crown Court, was convicted of membership of al-Qaida, directing a terrorist organisation, and possession of an article for the purposes of terrorism. He was jailed for life with the judge ruling that he should serve a minimum of 10 years and should be considered for parole only when he was no longer considered a danger to the public and had forsaken his radical views.

27.  Much of the evidence against Ahmed was gathered when he was under surveillance in Dubai and Manchester, before he returned to Pakistan where he was detained in August 2006. Four of his associates were detained in Greater Manchester around the same time. When he was deported to the UK in September 2007, three of his fingernails were missing from his left hand.

  28.  Before the trial, during an abuse of process hearing, Ahmed gave an account of his mistreatment at the hands of the ISI. He said he was beaten with sticks, whipped with electric cables, sexually humiliated and deprived of sleep for several days. He says his fingernails were removed one at a time over a period of three days, and he would be given a pain-killing injection and allowed to sleep after each session.

  29.  On the day after his third fingernail was removed, he alleged, he was shackled and hooded and driven for about 15 minutes to a building where he was questioned by two British officials. He says the two men explained that they were from the British government, and specified that they were not consular officials. He says he told these men that he was being tortured, and never saw them again. He was subsequently interrogated by American officials, he says, and was denied access to a lawyer or his family throughout his detention.

  30.  Ahmed's counsel, Michael Topolski QC, argued during the abuse of process hearing that because of his mistreatment in Pakistan, it would be an abuse of the court's process for his trial to go ahead. He said that the conduct of the state authorities had failed to uphold the administration of justice, and that to proceed would put Britain under a clear breach of its obligations, under international law, to suppress and discourage torture.

  31.  Mr Topolski also said: "Aware of, or at least suspecting the situation in Pakistan to be what it was, state agents, the security services and also the police condoned and connived in his torture by providing his torturers with questions after being refused access to him."

  32.  The assertion that police and the security services passed questions to the ISI was not contested by the Crown in open court. The Guardian believes this to be because this information was disclosed to the defence by the Crown. A ruling by the judge towards the end of proceedings makes clear that there were three matters heard in camera that may have a bearing on the issues addressed in this memorandum, and which, it might be argued, should be brought into open in the public interest.

  33.  During the abuse of process hearing, the Crown introduced evidence that it said showed that Ahmed's fingernails had been removed while he was a prisoner in India. The defence introduced evidence that it said showed that this could not be the case, and that they could only have been removed in Pakistan. The Crown's own pathologist concluded that the fingernails had parted from his fingers as a result of some sort of injury, and that one of those injuries had been just a few months prior to his release from Pakistani detention in September 2007.

  34.  The British Security Service's response to Ahmed's allegations of collusion in torture was heard in camera.

  35.  The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, rejected the application for a stay. He issued two judgements on the matter, one open, the other closed. In his open judgement he concludes that Ahmed was kept in inhumane conditions during the early part of his detention and may have been deprived of sleep, but said he was not satisfied that he suffered physical injury during the first 14 days of his detention (ie before being seen by British officials).

  36.  The judge does not address the matter of questions being passed to Ahmed's interrogators in his open judgement.

  37.  Ahmed's lawyers say they are planning to appeal against both his conviction and the judge's ruling on the abuse application, and are planning to bring civil proceedings in which the British state will be accused of failing in its duty of care towards Ahmed while he was in Pakistani custody.

Zeeshan Siddiqui

  38.  Zeeshan Siddiqui was born in London in 1980. He has some history of mental illness but is not known to be delusional. He was a friend of Asif Hanif, who killed three people and injured 55 in a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv in April 2003, and was associated with several men since convicted of serious terrorist offences.

39.  Siddiqui was detained in the Peshawar area on 15 May 2005 and held until March 2006, when he was repatriated to the UK. On his return he gave a statement to a London solicitor and an interview to the BBC in which he alleged that he suffered 11 days of severe mistreatment at the hands of Pakistani officials before being interviewed several times by British intelligence officers.

  40.  He says he was shackled, beaten, drugged, had chemicals injected up his nose, was forcibly catheterised, sexually humiliated, threatened, and told that he would be sent to Guantanamo.

  41.  Siddiqui told the BBC in an interview broadcast in March 2006 that he was questioned several times by British intelligence officials. Asked how he could be sure that they were intelligence officials, he replied: "The first time they came to see me they told me that there's people in the embassy who are available to help people like you, who have been imprisoned and detained, but we want you to know that we are not those people, we are in fact people from British intelligence."

  42.  In a statement to his lawyer, Siddiqui said he was seen by intelligence officers on six occasions and also seen by a consular official.

  43.  Siddiqui was subjected to a control order but absconded in October 2006 and his current whereabouts are unknown.

Salahuddin Amin

  44.  Salahuddin Amin was born in Edgware in 1975. He is serving a life sentence after being convicted in April 2007 of conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life. The court heard that he and several other men were planning attacks on targets such as the Ministry of Sound nightclub or the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. His appeal was dismissed.

45.  Amin had been detained in April 2004 after surrendering himself to ISI officers who knew his uncle. His uncle says that the ISI told him that British officials were requesting Amin's detention. Shortly before his uncle was approached some 18 people, including associates of Amin, had been detained in raids across the south east of England.

  46.  Amin was held for ten months. For the first four months, he says, he suffered severe mistreatment including sleep deprivation, beatings, whippings, being threatened with an electric drill and being suspended from the ceiling of a cell. He says he was interviewed several times by two officers from the British Security Service in between being tortured. He says he did not tell the officers that he was being tortured as he assumed they had requested that he be treated this way.

  47.  Amin's counsel, Patrick O'Connor QC, told the jury at the Old Bailey trial that Security Service officers would need to have been "naive in the extreme" not to know what would be happening to him. He said: "The ISI are so notorious that the idea that they didn't know, in general terms, the practices of the ISI, and what was likely to be happening to Mr Amin, will be regarded by you as risible." He added: "You could well conclude that there was a tacit understanding of some considerable amorality. The ISI can get away with what they can get away with. They are an organisation above the law, operating in a country with no effective democratic control. The British authorities, of course, are not going to dirty their hands with such abuses." The amorality, he added, is that British authorities are perfectly happy to gain what they regard as the benefit by way of intelligence, and information, and access to him.

  48.  Before the trial began, the judge ruled that Amin's treatment before he was brought to the UK was oppressive, but said he did not believe his allegations of torture.

Tariq Mahmood

  49.  During a telephone conversation from prison, Amin told the Guardian that an Uzbek detainee, held for a while in the cell next to him at the ISI prison in Rawalpindi, had informed him that another British citizen had been held there a short time before. Amin says that the Uzbek told him the British man had said his name was Tariq and had said he came from Birmingham.

50.  We believe this man to have been Tariq Mahmood, who was born in Birmingham in 1973. His relatives say he travelled to Pakistan to settle a family dispute and disappeared in October 2003. His family's solicitor in Birmingham says she wrote to Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, and to the British High Commission in Islamabad, seeking information on his whereabouts.

  51.  Pakistani officials confirmed on 17 November that he had been detained and was being questioned about alleged terrorism offences.

  52.  Mahmood surfaced around four months later when he was arrested by police in Rawalpindi. According to a police report compiled at that time, and seen by the Guardian, Mahmood had been been in ISI custody. He was then released at the side of a road, and police were called to say that a foreigner could be found at that location without any form of identification—a criminal offence under Pakistani law.

  53.  Mahmood's brother, Asif Mahmood, told the Guardian that Tariq had been mistreated while in ISI custody. He said: "Everyone mistreated him in a bad way. It was the British, it was MI5, and it was the FBI." He has declined to expand on that statement. He added that his brother remained in Pakistan and wished to put the matter behind him. In the Jhelum district of the Punjab, friends and relatives of Mahmood contacted by the Guardian claimed that he was now resident in Dubai. We formed the impression that relatives in both countries were very concerned for his safety. The Guardian has not been able to make contact with Mahmood.

Tahir Shah

  54.  Shah was born in the UK in 1967. He was detained in Peshawar in July 2005, shortly after the London bombings. He was held for 16 days. He says he was interrogated about the bombings in what he describes as "a fully-equipped torture chamber", with mangles, whips and electrical equipment.

55.  Shah says he was hooded and shackled for long periods and deprived of sleep. He says he did not receive any consular assistance. He says he was effectively deported without any legal process, being put aboard a scheduled flight. He says that at Heathrow his British passport was returned to him by an official who did not identify himself. Shah says he assumed the official to have been from the Security Service.

Rashid Rauf

  56.  Rauf was born in Pakistan in 1981 and moved to Birmingham as a child. He was a dual national. He returned to Pakistan in 2002 after the murder of an uncle in Birmingham. West Midlands police say they wou;ld have wanted to interview Rauf in connection with that offence had they been able to do so.

57.  Rauf was detained in Pakistan in August 2006 on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot. Some 21 people were arrested in the UK shortly afterwards. Rauf was brought before a court in December 2006, and cleared of terrorist offences. He was held on other charges and arrangements were made for his extradition to the UK.

  58.  Rauf's family in Birmingham say that he told relatives who spoke to him at court that he had been tortured. They also that he was once able to telephone them from the court. His brother Tayib Rauf, who was interviewed a number of times by the Guardian, said: "He described being dragged off a bus and having the living daylights beaten out of him. His solicitor who only saw him after he had been held for six months has said he had marks on his back, his front and his side. At first he was held in what he called a "grave cell". It was like a coffin: there was so little room that when he was lying down if he brought up his knees they touched the roof. He had no idea where he was. Whenever he was moved from cell to cell or interview room to interview room he would have a hood placed over his head. He could not see anything because he still had the hood on. He told me that one time, when he was being beaten, he could hear English and American accents in the room with him. He had a hood over his head but he knows what an English accent sounds like."

  59.  Rauf's lawyer in Pakistan, Hashmat Ali Habib, told the Guardian that Rauf told him that he had been mistreated, and that he had been questioned Westerners, but that he did not specify their nationality.


  60.  We believe that official responses to the specific allegations made in court by Ahmed and Amin were heard in camera.

61.  General responses made in public are given in more detail in the annex. Asked about the allegations, the Home Office issued a statement on behalf of the Security Service which did not address the specifics but said that the Service's policy was to not be involved in torture in any way.

  62.  The FCO denied that the Government had "outsourced" torture and said that the Foreign Secretary had been assured by the Security Service that there was nothing to suggest that it had supported torture.

  63.  The FCO and Margaret Beckett, former chair of the ISC, said individuals who with a complaint against the Security Service should take their case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

  64.  The IPT has indicated that it does not generally examine third party complaints. I understand that John McDonnell has lodged a complaint on behalf of his constituent, MSS, but I am uncertain whether this man's allegations have yet been examined.

  65.  Finally, it should be pointed out that few of the people who have alleged mistreatment, and alleged British collusion in mistreatment, or on whose behalf such allegations have been made, are able and willing to make complaints to the IPT. Many of the people to whom I have spoken are, frankly, terrified of reprisals against themselves or against family members in Pakistan.

January 2009

1   Guardian, 29 April 2008, page 8. Back

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