‘CREDIBLE ALLEGATIONS IMPLICATE THE UK IN TORTURE’ – says Amnesty

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Amnesty International is demanding ‘a full inquiry to end secrecy’, over the British state’s involvement in human rights abuses since the ‘war on terror’ was launched in 2001.

Amnesty issued a briefing with ‘ten key questions that an inquiry should seek to answer’.

Amnesty International’s UK Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Jeremy Croft, said: ‘Our briefing today sets out the arguments for a full, independent and wide-ranging inquiry into the UK’s involvement in human rights abuses like renditions, unlawful detentions and torture overseas post-11 September 2001.’

He continued: ‘There is compelling evidence that the UK has been involved in these human rights violations.

‘Yet the government’s response has been one of denial and of hiding behind a wall of secrecy.

‘It has shown no real commitment whatsoever to principles of transparency and accountability.

‘The government is attempting to have victims’ civil court cases, concerning credible evidence of the UK’s involvement in human rights violations, heard in secret.

‘The UK has a duty under domestic and international human rights law to conduct such an inquiry.

‘But moreover, the public needs to be assured that UK personnel are acting within the law and with respect for basic human rights.’

Amnesty’s briefing states that an inquiry should seek to answer, ‘at a minimum’, the following questions:

‘1. What have been the UK government’s policies and practices in response to grave violations of human rights such as torture or other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, renditions and unlawful detentions perpetrated by the USA and other states against people, including UK nationals, held overseas since 11 September 2001? Have they changed since then? If so, when, how and why?

‘2. In relation to seeking to obtain, receiving and using information that may have been extracted under torture or otherwise obtained unlawfully, what was the UK government’s policy and practice prior to 11 September 2001? Have these changed since then? If so, when, how and why?

‘3. What steps did the UK government take when in 2003 the ICRC first raised concern about grave human rights abuses at the hands of Coalition Forces in Iraq, including in relation to torture practices at Abu Ghraib?

‘4. What were the terms of the agreements the UK signed at the request of the US administration in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 purportedly under the principle of collective defence under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty?

‘5. Were there further bilateral secret agreements on cooperation in the context of the US-led “war on terror” between the UK and the USA, and if so, what did they entail?

‘6. What oversight mechanisms were in place to ensure that adequate record-keeping was maintained with respect to counter-terrorism policy and practices? In cases where record-keeping was poor or non-existent, how does the government explain these inadequacies?

‘7. How many times since 11 September 2001, and precisely in what circumstances, have authorisations under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 been issued?

‘8. What was the guidance regarding the role of the security services in the treatment and interviewing of detainees held overseas prior to 11 September 2001? Has it changed since then? And if so, when, how many times, in what respects and why?

‘9. What has been the role of military intelligence agencies and agents in all and any of the above?

‘10. What has been the role of lawyers and civil servants in all and any of the above?’

Detailing its very serious concerns, Amnesty said: ‘Amnesty International believes that there is credible evidence that the UK has been involved in grave human rights violations perpetrated against people held overseas since the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 to warrant the establishment of an independent, impartial and thorough inquiry.

‘Credible allegations implicate the UK in torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detentions and renditions.

‘Over the years, Amnesty International and others have documented cases of the UK’s involvement in these abuses, including:

• ‘UK personnel were present at and participated in interrogations of detainees held unlawfully overseas in circumstances in which the UK knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful;

• ‘UK personnel provided information (e.g. telegrams sent by UK intelligence personnel to intelligence services of other countries) that led the USA and other countries to apprehend and detain individuals when the UK knew or ought to have known that these people would be at risk of torture and/or unlawful detention;

• ‘The UK was involved in the US-led programme of renditions and secret detentions through, for example, the use of UK territory (e.g. Diego Garcia) and/or airspace;

• ‘UK personnel forwarded questions to be put to individuals detained by other countries in circumstances in which the UK knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful; and

• ‘The UK systematically received information extracted from people detained overseas in circumstances in which it knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned were being, had been or would be tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful.

‘Amnesty International believes that the UK’s role in the abusive practices described above cannot be attributed exclusively to the actions or omissions of rogue UK agents.

‘Policies and practices implemented in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 led directly to the UK becoming involved in grave violations of human rights committed against people held overseas.

‘These policies and practices included:

• ‘The UK government’s failure to respond adequately to the serious violations of international humanitarian law documented in the February 2004 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);

• ‘The sending of UK intelligence and police personnel abroad to conduct or assist the interrogations of people held by other states in circumstances where the UK knew or ought to have known that both detention and questioning were not only unlawful, but may also have amounted to serious crimes under UK and international law, including complicity in torture on the part of the UK and possible criminal conduct on the part of individual UK agents;

• ‘The refusal, for a substantial period of time, to oppose the unlawful detention of hundreds of people at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the concomitant refusal to make adequate representations to the USA and other countries, on behalf of UK nationals and former UK residents who were held unlawfully at various locations around the world, including Guantánamo Bay;

• ‘The sending of UK intelligence personnel to Guantánamo Bay to interrogate UK nationals and UK residents;

• The concealment until June 2004 of the fact that a number of the detainees questioned by UK intelligence personnel had in fact complained about their treatment in detention at the hands of US authorities at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere (e.g. Afghanistan), and the subsequent refusal of the UK to provide any further detail about these complaints, including on how, if at all, they had been followed up in a manner consistent with the UK’s human rights obligations under international law;

• ‘The authorisations issued by the UK government to the security and intelligence agencies under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which provides a waiver of liability to intelligence service personnel for illegal acts, including criminal offences, committed abroad in certain circumstances, and the concomitant concealment – for “security reasons” – of the number of times and the circumstances in which these authorisations have been granted since 11 September 2001;

• ‘The incorrect assertion that there were only very limited circumstances in which domestic and international human rights law would apply to UK operations abroad, including in Afghanistan and Iraq;

• ‘The failure to disclose information in the UK government’s possession that supported claims on behalf of former and current detainees that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated and that their confessions had been extracted under torture or other ill-treatment;

• ‘The wilful or grossly negligent failure to maintain adequate records – or any records at all – with respect to the use of Diego Garcia by the USA for unlawful renditions, and the activities of the intelligence agencies; and

• ‘The strenuous defence of the use, in domestic legal proceedings, of information extracted under torture from people held overseas by other countries.’

Amnesty said: ‘The UK government’s response to these charges has primarily been one of denial and of hiding behind a wall of secrecy.

‘The Chiefs of the UK’s Secret Services (MI5 and MI6), the Home and Foreign Secretaries, the Prime Minister and the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee have in the past denied the UK’s involvement in the torture of people held overseas.

‘However, such denials fly in the face of credible evidence to the contrary that has continued to mount in recent years.

‘Moreover, they appear to contradict the admission that authorisations under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 have indeed been granted.

‘Further, the High Court of England and Wales confirmed in August 2008 that the UK, through its security service (MI5), had facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in the knowledge that his initial detention in Pakistan was unlawful.

‘Then, during a two-year period, the UK continued to facilitate interviews conducted on behalf of the US authorities when it must have realised that Binyam Mohamed was being held unlawfully by a third country.

‘Further, at that time the UK knew or ought to have known that there was a real risk that Binyam Mohamed was being tortured.’

Amnesty concluded: ‘Amnesty International believes that the allegations of UK complicity in torture and other abuses of people held overseas are very serious and cannot be lawfully answered by sweeping denials.

‘Seven former detainees of Guantánamo Bay, who are either UK nationals or UK residents, have sued the UK authorities for their alleged involvement in the human rights violations that they suffered over the years.

‘Thus far successfully, the UK government has argued that, on “national security” grounds, each of the seven men, their lawyers of choice and the public should be excluded from a number of hearings which would be conducted behind closed doors and at which the UK authorities would present secret arguments to defend themselves against the seven men’s claims.

‘Amnesty International considers that, through this procedure, the UK authorities are once again seeking to hide behind the cloak of secrecy to shield themselves from scrutiny and criticism of their human rights record…

‘Far from making anyone more secure, such actions undermine collective security by fostering impunity for, and the recurrence of, grave human rights violations…

‘Amnesty International believes that the time is long overdue for the facts surrounding the UK’s involvement in cases such as those brought by the seven former detainees of Guantánamo to be put in the public domain, and for those responsible for grave human rights violations to be brought to justice.’