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A graphic with a ''stop'' sign superimposed over several pairs of handcuffs
The UK government has repeatedly denied any role in torture and renditionImage: picture-alliance/ dpa / DW

Torture inquiry

August 4, 2009

A panel of lawmakers in the UK say the government is hiding behind a "wall of secrecy" over claims that security agents colluded in the torture of terrorism suspects. They say recent allegations should be a wake-up call.


A parliamentary committee on human rights said government accountability for security and intelligence services was "woefully deficient" and demanded a full independent probe into allegations of British complicity in torture.

It criticized ministers for persistently evading questions on, and scrutiny of, Britain's role in the alleged torture of terrorism suspects, and said this simply had to stop.

"Ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and accountability," the committee said.

It said government ministers had refused requests for oral evidence and provided what is being described as "standard" answers which "failed to address the issues."

In some cases, they ignored questions entirely, the committee added.

The report went on to say that given the large number of unanswered questions in the wake of the "extremely serious" allegations relating to the "war on terror," such an inquiry was the only way to restore public confidence in intelligence and security agencies MI5 and MI6.

Repeated denials

The British government was questioned repeatedly over the past five years about its involvement in torture and in r­endition – the unlawful transfer of suspects to a third country for interrogation.

It always denied involvement in torture and has resisted holding a public inquiry despite allegations by several former detainees, some of them British residents. The former detainees claim they were tortured while held abroad with the knowledge – if not the direct participation – of British intelligence officers.

After years of denial, the government admitted in February last year that two US rendition flights did pass through a British-owned territory, but said it was unaware of this at the time.

Allegations examined

The parliamentary committee examined claims by eight terrorism suspects who claimed they were visited by British security agents while they were detained and allegedly tortured in Pakistan since 2001.

A file photo of a drawing by a sketch artist showing terror suspect Binyam Mohamed
British police have launched a criminal probe into Binyamin Mohamed's torture claimsImage: AP

It also looked at the case of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, who claims he was tortured and questioned by US and British agents during his six and a half years in US custody.

The British resident says he was held in facilities in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, where he suffered "medieval" torture, including sexual mutilation, before being transferred to the US-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

He was released in February without charge, and last month, British police launched a criminal probe into his claims that British agents were linked to him being tortured.

However, the government has opposed his legal bid to secure the release of a secret document about his allegations, saying it could prompt the US to limit its intelligence-sharing.

In March, Attorney General Patricia Scotland said there were sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation into Mohamed's allegations.

Breach of UN convention

"The recent allegations about complicity in torture should be a wake-up call to ministers that the current arrangements are not satisfactory," the parliamentary committee said.

A fence at the US base at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo has become synonymous with torture and illegal detentionImage: AP

There was "no room for doubt that complicity in torture" would be a direct breach of the UK's international human rights obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture," the committee added.

A human rights group launched legal action against the UK government last week, accusing it of involvement in the rendition of another terrorism suspect, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, from Indonesia via British territory to Egypt, where Madni says he was tortured.

US example

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in an effort to reassure the public that secret services were operating within the law, said back in March the government would publish details of their interrogation methods, but critics who have been demanding an inquiry said this was not enough.

Lawmakers urged the government to follow the US example by releasing any instructions given to agents on questioning and detention of suspects overseas and legal advice about the issues.

US President Barack Obama in April allowed the release of sensitive and controversial documents approving the interrogation methods from former President George W. Bush's administration.

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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