BRITAIN’S Equalities and Human Rights Commission called last Saturday for an urgent independent probe into claims that the security services were complicit in the torture of more than 20 terror suspects.
The call came a day after a court heard that police were already investigating allegations that the services were complicit in the abuse of Britain’s last remaining Guantanamo Bay detainee, Shaker Aamer.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission made the call in a letter to Justice Secretary Jack Straw.
The call follows the Court of Appeal’s release of evidence showing that MI5 was briefed in detail at the time about the deliberate ill-treatment of British resident Binyam Mohamed by the US. This included sleep deprivation, threat of rendition and shackled interrogation. The government had sought to prevent the Court from publicly disclosing this evidence.
In the letter to the Secretary of State, Jack Straw, the Commission outlined its concern that Binyam Mohamed may not be an isolated case now that twenty-four other allegations have come to light.
The letter calls for an independent investigation to determine whether senior officials and ministers turned a blind eye to the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ by the US and the systematic use of torture by the Pakistani Intelligence Services, amongst others.
More than 20 allegations, involving British residents and citizens, have been reported by the United Nations, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and international human rights organisations. This includes a UN Human Rights Council report, published last month, which made allegations against the UK of complicity in torture used during interrogations.
Two cases of alleged complicity in torture are being investigated by the police but, as yet, no charges have been brought. The Commission is concerned that, beyond the complainants’ own accounts of their experiences, any corroborative evidence lies in the hands of the government’s own agencies and, in particular, the security and intelligence services themselves.
Any independent review needs to be robust, open and thorough and satisfy the following, the Commission said:
• those carrying out the review are given complete access to all relevant materials;
• the review team are completely independent of Government and appointed via a transparent and independent process;
• the review will be as open and transparent as possible, put as much material in the public domain as possible and hold as many evidence sessions in public as possible; and
• the findings of the review will be published as soon as possible with as little concealed for national security reasons as is practical.
Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘Torture contravenes UK and international law and the values that Britain upholds.
‘Ministers and government agencies are facing very serious allegations of knowing that UK citizens were being tortured, failing to take action to stop that torture and supplying questions to be used in the interrogation of men who were subjected to a high level of ill-treatment.
‘Given the UK’s role as a world leader on human rights it would be inexplicable for the government not to urgently put in place an independent review process to assess the truth, or otherwise, of these allegations.
‘The Commission is concerned that the government has already sought, via the courts, to suppress evidence of its agency’s knowledge of the torture of Binyam Mohamed. The government must take the opportunity of an independent review to be as open and transparent with the public as possible.’
On Friday, the High Court heard that British detectives had applied for the release of secret documents related to their inquiries about Guantanamo inmate Shaker Aamer, held at the US detention camp on Cuba since February 2002.
Aamer’s lawyer Richard Hermer said police had gone to the London offices of his solicitors on Wednesday.
‘It became apparent they are now investigating allegations raised by Mr Aamer into the alleged complicity of the UK security service in his mistreatment,’ he said.
Aamer, 42, was born in Saudi Arabia but is a permanent British resident and is married to a British national who lives with their four children in London.
His lawyers told the court last year that government documents included evidence that British intelligence officers were present on at least two occasions when he was tortured but failed to help him.