Cruel Britannia: Human Rights Watch Exposes British Complicity In Torture In Pakistan


Cruel Britannia: Human Rights Watch report, November 2009Human Rights Watch has just issued a new report, “Cruel Britannia,” investigating British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in Pakistan, and calling for an independent inquiry into the British government’s behavior in Pakistan. The report could not come at a worse time for the British government, as it struggles to contain other evidence of complicity in the torture and abuse of seven British citizens and residents who were held in Guantánamo, and also struggles to contain two High Court judges who, for the last 15 months, have demonstrated their commitment to highlighting British complicity in the torture of former Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed by US agents in Pakistan in April and May 2002.

This latest report builds on some fine investigative reporting over the last two years by Ian Cobain of the Guardian, who first broke the story of British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in Pakistan in April 2008, and has doggedly pursued it ever since, whilst also reporting on British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in other countries.

What makes this particular report so powerful, however, are statements obtained by Human Rights Watch from Pakistani security officials, who confirmed that the accounts of torture are “essentially accurate,” and who, in one case, that of Salahuddin Amin, also implicated the US government, explaining that “the British and American desire for information from him was ‘insatiable.’” Human Rights Watch also secured confirmation from British government officials, speaking off the record, that their analysis was “spot on.”

I do not have time today to present my own analysis of the Human Rights Watch report, but I urge you to read it, and I reproduce below the informative press release announcing its publication that was issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch. To leave readers with just one question, however, I do wonder how the convictions in UK courts of Rangzieb Ahmed (who had his fingernails pulled out by his UK-backed torturers) and Salahuddin Amin (convicted in the “Crevice” trial) can be regarded as trustworthy, when they so clearly involved information that was extracted through the use of torture, which, lest we forget, should not only be spurned by civilized nations because of its barbarity, and because its use is illegal, but also because it is fundamentally unreliable.

UK: Set Judicial Inquiry on Complicity in Torture
Human Rights Watch news release, November 24, 2009

(London) — The UK government should immediately order an independent judicial inquiry into the role and complicity of British security services in the torture of terrorism suspects in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 46-page report, “Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan,” provides accounts from victims and their families in the cases of five UK citizens of Pakistani origin — Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed, Rashid Rauf and a fifth individual who wishes to remain anonymous — tortured in Pakistan by Pakistani security agencies between 2004 and 2007. Human Rights Watch found that while there is no evidence of UK officials directly participating in torture, UK complicity is clear. “British intelligence and law enforcement colluded with and turned a blind eye to the use of torture on terrorism suspects in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “British officials knew that Pakistani intelligence agencies routinely used torture, were aware of specific cases and did not intervene.”

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 Committee on Human Rights in February 2009 were accurate. Another government source told Human Rights Watch that its research into this subject was “spot on.”

These officials said that the Pakistani intelligence services cooperated in specific cases by sharing information from abusive interrogations with British officials, which was used in prosecutions in UK courts and other investigations. UK law enforcement and intelligence officials passed questions to Pakistani officials for use in interrogation sessions in individual cases, knowing that these Pakistani officials were using torture.

Knowledgeable civilian and military officials in the Pakistani government have on numerous occasions told Human Rights Watch that British officials were aware of the mistreatment of the terrorism suspects in question.

“A key lesson from the past eight years of global efforts to combat terrorism is that the use of torture and ill-treatment is deeply counterproductive,” Hasan said. “It undermines the moral legitimacy of governments that rely on it and serves as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.”

Four of the victims described meeting British officials while detained in Pakistan. In some cases this happened shortly after sessions in which the individuals had been tortured, when clear and visible signs of torture were evident.

Rangzieb Ahmed, from Greater Manchester, England, was arrested in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan on August 20, 2006 and accused of links with al Qaeda. On September 7, 2007, he was transferred to the United Kingdom. Ahmed told Human Rights Watch that while he was in detention in Pakistan, he was repeatedly tortured, beaten, deprived of sleep, and otherwise mistreated by Pakistani security agencies. His torturers pulled out three of his fingernails, he said.

Human Rights Watch spoke to members of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies involved in processing Ahmed at various stages of his detention. These sources, from both civilian and military Pakistani agencies, confirmed what they described as the “overall authenticity” of his claims, including the claim that British intelligence services were aware of his detention and treatment at “all times.”

Zeeshan Siddiqui from Hounslow, London, was arrested in Pakistan on May 15, 2005, on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. He was deported to the United Kingdom on January 8, 2006. During his detention, Siddiqui said he was repeatedly beaten, chained, injected with drugs, and threatened with sexual abuse and further torture.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Pakistani security officials confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Siddiqui was arrested on the basis of a tip-off from the British intelligence services and at their request. The Pakistani sources added that British intelligence agents were aware at all times that Siddiqui was being “processed” in the “traditional way” and the British were “effectively” interrogating Siddiqui even as Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau “processed” him. “Because no one could prove or get him to admit anything useful, that is probably why the green light was given to bring him into the [legal] system,” the source said.

Amin, of Edgware, was convicted in April 2007 in the “Crevice” trial for plotting attacks against several potential targets, including London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. Amin gave himself up voluntarily to Pakistani authorities after assurances were given to his family that he would not be mistreated, but was then tortured repeatedly through 2004 and forced into false confessions.
Amin alleges that during his detention he was met by British intelligence officials on almost a dozen occasions. Amin was released by Pakistani authorities after a 10-month illegal detention, and then arrested upon arrival at Heathrow airport in 2005.

Pakistani intelligence sources said that Amin’s account of his detention and meetings with British and American intelligence personnel are “essentially accurate.” These sources told Human Rights Watch that Amin’s was a “high pressure” case and that the British and American desire for information from him was “insatiable.” The sources added that the British and American agents who were “party” to Amin’s detention were “perfectly aware that we were using all means possible to extract information from him and were grateful that we were doing so.”

“The evil of terrorism does not justify participating in or using the results of torture,” Hasan said. “Until an independent inquiry is held and those responsible held accountable, Britain’s reputation as a rights-respecting nation will stand tarnished.”

General denials of complicity in torture from the foreign and home secretaries have not addressed the specific allegations made by Human Rights Watch, the Guardian newspaper, and lawyers representing torture victims.

The government has also failed to respond adequately to the findings and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) and the Foreign Affairs Committee. The JCHR has called for an independent judicial inquiry. “The British government has stonewalled parliament, victims and the public alike in refusing to answer any questions about its behavior in Pakistan,” Hasan said. “It should immediately set up an independent judicial inquiry and put in place measures to ensure that its complicity in torture never happens again.”

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

2 Responses

  1. Will Shirley says...

    I don’t know, it just seems to me that we have a dichotomy in this country, and I should say that Britain is more or less part of this country too. Maybe that’s part of the problem, maybe our boys want to reverse the Revolution and get us a jerkwater king and a band of nose picking nobility. Anybody look at Liberman lately? Now imagine him all poofed out in a ruff and velvet, sniffing snuff and sneezing on fat women. See how easily your mind wraps around that? It’s because we live in such a world now. Our nobility simply don’t have good taste in clothes. But we’ve come so far… in fashion. In language we’ve degenerated, in understanding and logic we’ve gone back to the Neanderthal. Andy, if you have not read Mussolini lately, do yourself a favor and read his essay for the Italian Encyclopedia on “Corporatism-Fascism”. It’s the biggest fascist writing on his beliefs and I swear they were plucked verbatim by the Republicans for their platform. This is where they stand: government by corporations, perpetual war, religion merged with government. All of this, the lies, the drum beating, all of this is designed to bring the Great Dictator back to life as an American king. I’m worried, genuine worry this time. The citizens of this country are so freaking ignorant of anything that does not come for PS3 it would be easy to get them to wear brown shirts. Watch the video games and see if Wii comes out with a witch burning game or Muslim killing, raping, burning game. They will try to train our kids for the next generation of openly Fascist world government. Knowing kids as I do I give it a 50-50 shot at working, but only for a few drop outs. Kids are smarter than that. It’s their parents who worry me. Ya know what makes me feel better? When I see that Europe is handling most of their problems without sending in the army. Some people seem to have entered the 21st century without looking back. Americans constantly look back to “better days”, but their ideas of better involve blacks as slaves, women without the vote, children seen and not heard and mint juleps at lunch. It can’t work, even with all the idiots here. It can’t work because it DOES NOT WORK. That’s why history is important. All fading empires go fascist and then they fall apart. Then they try representative government and that works until the voters get lazy. Americans are famously lazy, always working on machines to do the work, even to the point of having robots build robots. I’m just worried we have “selected” a member of the old boys club, Obama in a white coat strolling thru the WH with a pitcher of mint juleps for the REAL president in the basement: Dick Cheney.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Will,
    Good to hear from you, as ever. What leapt out at me most from your chilling analysis was the context of war, which made me reflect that Britain suffered a terrorist attack and that the British government has become embroiled in torture because Blair so enthusiastically embraced the Bush administration’s wars.
    Also, I don’t think Dick Cheney’s in the basement, but metaphorically the Democrats’ inability to make the right decisions — or, perhaps, to stand up to the Pentagon and its allies — is bringing about what Cheney wanted all along.
    We need real leadership prepared to make tough decisions on both sides of the Atlantic, but it seems we’re not going to get it, and one reason, of course, is that not enough people care.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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