Britain’s Secret Torture Policy Exposed

9.7.09

Rangzieb AhmedOn Tuesday evening, Britain’s secret torture policy was blown wide open when, in the House of Commons, David Davis MP used the protection of parliamentary privilege to tell the House how, in 2006, the British government and the security services allowed Rangzieb Ahmed, a British citizen, to travel to Pakistan, where they “suggested” to the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s most notorious intelligence agency, that he should be arrested.

As Davis explained, “We … know that the intelligence officer who wrote to the Pakistanis did so in full knowledge of the normal methods used by the ISI against terrorist suspects that it holds. That is unsurprising, as it is common public knowledge in Pakistan. The officer would therefore be aware that ‘suggesting’ arrest was equivalent to ‘suggesting’ torture.”

What makes this case particularly shocking, as Davis also explained — and repeated for emphasis — is that all this took place even though Ahmed had been “kept under surveillance” in the UK “for about a year” before departing for Pakistan, and that “during that time, evidence was collected, on the basis of which he was subsequently convicted.”

I’m reproducing David Davis’ statement in full in an accompanying article, because of its enormous significance. As the Guardian explained yesterday, “This is the first time that the information has entered the public domain. Previously it has been suppressed through the process of secret court hearings and, had the Guardian or other media organisations reported it, they would have exposed themselves to the risk of prosecution for contempt of court.”

Davis himself was scathing about the government’s secrecy. After stating that, “In the last year, there have been at least 15 cases of British citizens or British residents claiming to be tortured by foreign intelligence agencies with the knowledge, complicity and, in some cases, presence of British intelligence officers,” he added, “For each case, the government have denied complicity, but at the same time fiercely defended the secrecy of their actions, making it impossible to put the full facts in the public domain, despite the clear public interest in doing so. Although the combined circumstantial evidence of complicity in all these cases is overwhelming, it has not so far been possible — because of the government’s improper use of state secrecy to cover up the evidence — to establish absolutely clear sequences of cause and effect.”

In the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, which he reported in painstaking detail, Davis also noted that “the authorities were so paranoid that they threatened to arrest a journalist for reporting facts stated in open court.”

This is clearly not the end of the story. Davis suggested that “One way in which the in-camera veil of secrecy might be lifted would be a civil case by Mr. Ahmed against the government for their complicity in torture,” in which part of the process “would involve challenging the in-camera rulings and revealing the details of agency involvement.” He explained that “Just such a case was being considered by Mr. Ahmed, and on 20 April this year he was visited in prison by his solicitor and a specialist legal adviser to discuss it.”

However, as Davis also explained, just a week after Rangzieb Ahmed met his lawyer, he was visited by “an officer from MI5 and a policeman,” who allegedly requested him “to drop his allegations of torture” in exchange for a reduced sentence and a financial reward. This was reported in the Guardian the day before David Davis made his statement, prompting Davis to suggest that, if the allegation is true, it may represent “a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.”

Although this allegation preceded Davis’ statement, lawyers for two of the men who were tortured in Pakistan — Rangzieb Ahmed and Salahuddin Amin — have already followed up on the MP’s extraordinary revelations by writing to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, asking him to “establish a public inquiry to investigate the complicity of government employees in the illegal detention and torture” of both men (as the Guardian reported late last night), and Human Rights Watch also followed up on Davis’ wider allegations, reporting today that:

In off-the-record conversations, knowledgeable civilian and military officials of the government of Pakistan have on numerous occasions told Human Rights Watch that British officials were aware of the mistreatment of several high-profile terrorism suspects, including Britons Rangzieb Ahmed, Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rashid Rauf and others. Pakistani officials told Human Rights Watch that they were under immense pressure from the UK and the US to “perform” in the “war on terror” and “we do what we are asked to do.”

A well placed official within the UK government told Human Rights Watch that allegations of UK complicity made by Human Rights Watch in testimony to the UK Parliament’s Joint Human Rights Committee in February 2009 were accurate. The official encouraged Human Rights Watch to continue its research into the subject. Another Whitehall source told Human Rights Watch that its research was “spot on.”

In the case of Salahuddin Amin, who was convicted in the UK in April 2007 for “plotting attacks against several potential targets” in London, despite being “tortured repeatedly” in Pakistan and “forced into false confessions,” Human Rights Watch noted that Pakistani intelligence sources told them that “Amin’s was a ‘high pressure’ case and the British and American desire for information from him was ‘insatiable.’” They added that both the British and American agents who were “party” to his detention were “perfectly aware that we were using all means possible to extract information from him and were grateful that we were doing so.”

While I await further information, I urge you not only to read David Davis’ full statement and the Human Rights Watch article, but also to read “The Truth About Torture,” a full-length article by Ian Cobain, based largely on his own research into the cases of Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed, Rashid Rauf, Tariq Mahmood and Tahir Shah (all held in Pakistan), Binyam Mohamed (held in Pakistan before his rendition to torture in Morocco), Alam Ghafoor and Mohammed Rafiq Siddique (held in the UAE), and Jamil Rahman (held in Bangladesh), which appeared in yesterday’s G2 supplement and provides the best summary to date of how, as America’s closest ally in the “War on Terror,” Britain became complicit in torture to a shocking extent that is still being revealed.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

2 Responses

  1. Will Shirley says...

    I’ve always said that all the wild accusations of war crimes, torture and mass murder of civilians might actually be, simply the truth. The fact of the matter is the Western powers obsessed so deeply over the evil people in the world they became themselves evil. Deeply evil. The United States has always been what our enemies claimed. We did have an official policy of genocide against the Native Americans for more than 100 years. Our founders were slave owners and breeders. Many of the various wars we have initiated were sold to the public by official lies. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, Saddams connections with Bin Laden, even back to the destruction of the Maine. We dropped 2 nuclear bombs on a civilian population after the Japanese tried to surrender. We even exposed our sailors to radiation just to see what would happen. We are not a nice culture, the Brits and the Americans. The worst of it is that we continue to kill, torture and lie about it. How can we stop this when our governments are perfectly willing to kidnap, torture, kill, and have all they need to cover up their actions? Who would stand against such people? It’s obvious Obama is not that one. We cannot continue like this, eventually the world will have to stop us to save themselves.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Will.
    Good to hear from you. You captured the essence of the flight from reason after 9/11 with the following statement:
    “The fact of the matter is the Western powers obsessed so deeply over the evil people in the world they became themselves evil.”

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