(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."