UK government must launch investigation into its role in overseas torture

As evidence mounts that UK authorities exploited the torture of terrorism suspects by foreign intelligence agencies, Amnesty International has reiterated its demand that the British government conduct a full public inquiry to identify and hold to account those responsible. Speaking during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday, former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis described a series of actions by British authorities which he said led to the torture of British citizen Rangzieb Ahmed by Pakistani intelligence agents. David Davis said that the UK authorities deliberately allowed Rangzieb Ahmed to travel from the UK to Pakistan in 2006, despite having sufficient evidence to charge and try him for serious terrorist offences, and that the UK government warned the Pakistani authorities of his arrival. He further alleged that British intelligence agencies wrote to their opposite numbers in Pakistan “suggesting” that they arrest Rangzieb Ahmed, and that this information led directly to the arrest and interrogation of Rangzieb Ahmed. According to David Davis, British police and intelligence officers co-operated in drawing up a list of questions to be used during the interrogation, and supplied them to the Pakistani authorities. Rangzieb Ahmed has alleged that he was tortured in Pakistani custody. He has recounted being beaten with sticks, whipped with electric cables and rubber whips, sexually humiliated, and deprived of sleep. Independent medical evidence confirms that several of his fingernails had been removed. Rangzieb Ahmed also claimed that he informed two British Intelligence Officers, who visited him his time in detention, that he had been tortured. Research by Amnesty International and others demonstrates that individuals detained by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of Pakistan face a grave risk of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. The practice of torture by the ISI is widespread and well-documented, including in the testimony of people released from ISI custody and in reports by the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Amnesty International said that the UK authorities should operate on the presumption that any individual in the custody of the ISI or other Pakistani intelligence agencies would, in all likelihood, be exposed to torture and other ill-treatment. One such individual is Salahuddin Amin, who was held in Pakistani custody in 2004. He was questioned by ISI agents in what his lawyer believes is the same facility that Rangzieb Ahmed was eventually held in. His lawyer told Amnesty International, “Salahuddin Amin was detained, tortured and forced to make a confession by the ISI in 2004 before being returned to the UK and arrested on arrival. The UK authorities were aware of these allegations in 2005, well before Rangzieb Ahmed was allowed to leave the UK for Pakistan.” “The growing indications that the UK turned a blind eye to torture or abuse and seemingly sought to benefit from the results of that mistreatment raises serious questions about the UK’s understanding and respect for its human rights and humanitarian law obligations,” said Amanda Cumberland, researcher for Amnesty International’s EU team. Amnesty International said that criminal investigations into this and other similar incidents should not purely focus on the role of junior frontline officers. “We need to know whether UK agents were authorized to turn a blind eye to torture and ill-treatment, and how far any such authorizations went. Anyone who knowingly authorized or condoned actions incompatible with the UK’s obligations to prevent and to act against torture and other ill-treatment must also be held to account,” said Amanda Cumberland. In addition to other obligations, the UN Convention against Torture requires that all acts by any person under the jurisdiction of the UK that constitute “complicity or participation in torture” be prosecuted as a criminal offence. Other similar incidents highlight the need for a broader public inquiry. Amnesty International is aware that the UK authorities provided information leading to the arrest of several men who subsequently suffered rendition and torture at the hands of the CIA. Jamil el Banna and Bisher al Rawi were British residents arrested in the Gambia and transferred to US detention in Afghanistan before finally resurfacing in Guantánamo Bay. In the case of British resident Binyam Mohamed, interrogation by UK agents in Pakistan was the prelude to rendition, torture and secret detention in Morocco and Afghanistan, followed by years in Guantánamo Bay. Khaled al Maqtari, a Yemeni arrested by US forces in Iraq in 2004, says that UK agents questioned him while the marks of beatings were still clearly visible on his body. The UK agents did not mistreat him, he said, but neither did they make any effort to find out what had happened to him. Instead they drove him through the darkened streets of Baghdad, asking him to identify suspect locations, before returning him at dawn to the prison at Abu Ghraib. Three days later he disappeared into the CIA’s secret jails, not to resurface for more than two years. “The British government must launch a fully independent public inquiry into the allegations of various forms of British involvement in relation to the torture of detainees overseas,” concluded Amanda Cumberland.