(London) - The UK government should order an independent judicial inquiry into mounting evidence that its security services and law enforcement agencies were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said today.
Officials in both the Pakistani and UK governments have privately confirmed to Human Rights Watch that British officials were aware of specific cases of mistreatment, knew that Pakistani intelligence agencies routinely used torture on detained terror suspects and others, and failed to intervene to prevent torture in cases involving British citizens and in cases in which it had an investigative interest.
"The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and others have repeatedly said that the UK opposes torture. They repeatedly deny allegations that the UK has encouraged torture by Pakistan's intelligence agencies," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "But saying this over and over again doesn't make it true. There is now sufficient evidence in the public domain to warrant a judicial inquiry."
Extensive research by Human Rights Watch in recent years has established that UK law enforcement and intelligence agents worked routinely on counter-terror cases with Pakistan's notorious military-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the civilian-controlled Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other Pakistani security agencies. British officials and agents were well aware that these Pakistani agencies routinely resorted to illegal detentions and torture to extract confessions and to punish and intimidate terrorism suspects and others. These practices have been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch, Pakistani human rights groups, lawyers and media, the US State Department, and the United Nations.
Human Rights Watch presented information on cases of British citizens tortured and mistreated in Pakistani custody to the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights on February 3, 2009. This week the Guardian published detailed and credible allegations of UK complicity in torture in Pakistan.
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."
According to these UK officials, as a result of cooperation on specific cases, the Pakistani intelligence services shared 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.
UK citizen Rangzieb Ahmed, from Greater Manchester, England, was arrested in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan on August 20, 2006 because of his alleged links with the al Qaeda network. On September 7, 2007 he was transferred to the United Kingdom-information that Human Rights Watch conveyed to the international media. While still imprisoned in Pakistan, Ahmed alleged that he was repeatedly tortured, beaten, sleep-deprived and mistreated by Pakistani security agencies. Rangzieb's torture included having three of his fingernails pulled out. Human Rights Watch spoke to members of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies involved in processing him at various stages of his detention. These sources, from both civilian and military Pakistani agencies, confirmed 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, 2005. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Pakistani security officials privately 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.
During his detention, Siddiqui reported being repeatedly beaten, chained, injected with drugs and threatened with sexual abuse and further torture. 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.
Salahuddin 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 states that he 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. During his illegal detention, Amin alleges that he was met by British intelligence officials on almost a dozen occasions. Amin was released by Pakistani authorities after a 10-month illegal detention, then arrested upon arrival at Heathrow in 2005.
Pakistani intelligence sources maintain 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 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."
"Little is left to the imagination when accounts from victims, insiders in Pakistan and Britain, and medical and circumstantial evidence all point to UK knowledge and at least passive encouragement of torture in Pakistan," said Adams. "Knowing that torture would be used by others to obtain information and then saying that ‘We had nothing to do with it,' is not the behavior of a government unequivocally committed to ending torture."
In its February 2009 submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch posed a number of questions that are relevant but remain unanswered:
- What steps, as a matter of policy, does the UK government take to ensure that torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is not used in any cases in which it has asked the Pakistani authorities for assistance or cooperation?
- What does the UK government do when it learns that such treatment has occurred in a particular case?
- What conditions has the UK government put on continuing cooperation and assistance with Pakistan in counter-terror and law enforcement activities?
- Has the UK government ever conditioned continuing cooperation or assistance with Pakistan on an end to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?
- Has the UK government ever withdrawn cooperation in a particular case or cases because of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?
In addition to answering these questions, Human Rights Watch called on the UK government to:
- Hold an independent judicial inquiry into all cases in which there are allegations of British government complicity, participation, or knowledge of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees. The aims of such an inquiry should be to establish:
- whether British intelligence, security or law enforcement services have been complicit in torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary detentions, or enforced disappearances;
- what role, if any, UK government policy has played in such abuse, and
- a code of conduct that is consistent with UK and international law and human rights standards.Publicly repudiate reliance on intelligence obtained under torture in third countries.
- Publish its current and previous guidance to its intelligence agencies and agents on torture and how to work with abusive intelligence agencies that are known to practice torture.
- In individual cases where the UK has an interest, condition UK counter-terrorism assistance and cooperation with Pakistan on the end of the use of torture, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and other illegal methods in such cases. This will not only ensure compliance with the UK's domestic and international legal obligations, it will help countless Pakistanis who suffer from torture at the hands of the Pakistani authorities. It will also enable prosecutions of individuals responsible for acts of terror or other crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts without the risk of having evidence excluded or entire cases collapsing.
- Make the end of torture a high priority in the UK's relations with Pakistan. The UK government should press in public and private for an end to torture. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office should include a candid and unvarnished description of the problem in its annual human rights report.
- Table a bill in parliament to repeal or amend any legal provisions, such as those in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and in the Intelligence Act 1994, that appear to provide legal immunity for serious human rights abuses carried out by British security or intelligence personnel. At the very least, the Intelligence Act should be amended to rule out acts of or complicity in grave crimes such as murder, torture, and disappearances.
"Repeating the mantra that Britain does not torture or condone torture is no longer a credible response to the many specific allegations of UK complicity in torture in Pakistan," said Adams. "It is time for the British government to end its policy of general denials and to respond to the many specific allegations about its involvement in these case. It should set up an independent inquiry to investigate what happened and put in place measures to ensure that this never happens again. Britain's reputation as a rights-respecting nation is at stake."