This week an investigation commenced in the United Kingdom surrounding allegations of British involvement in the torture of terrorist suspects abroad.
A human rights group intervenes
The group known as Cageprisoners, a campaign dedicated to the research of terrorist detention, told the BBC last week that there were “29 cases of security service involvement with tortured or mistreated suspects.”
Despite the denial of UK authorities having a hand in the matter, representatives admitted that the interrogation of suspects held in foreign prisons “yields valuable intelligence.” The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office added that it took allegations of torture seriously.
The UK has been charged with rendition, which involves terrorism suspects being transferred to countries where torture is known to be used. The interrogations that Cageprisoners allege have taken place were performed in foreign countries by MI5, the UK’s counter-intelligence and security agency; the MI6, their Secret Intelligence Service; and the SAS, the Special Air Service.
Cageprisoners has named multiple countries in which the alleged mistreatment occurred, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya.
One man, Moroccan Farid Hilali, claimed “he was questioned by British intelligence officers in a prison in the UAE, where he was tortured,” according to the BBC.
Many of the claims akin to Hilali’s date back to 1999, prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania in the United States.
Most recently, however, Ethiopian Binyam Mohamed has increased the visibility of all torture claims after returning to Britain having spent time in Guantanamo Bay since 2004. Mohamed was originally detained back in 2002 as a suspected terrorist when he was trying to leave Karachi, Pakistan with a falsified British passport.
While American officials said that he was preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in the U.S., Mohamed claimed to have been preparing to fight in Chechnya.
BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford called Mohamed’s allegations the “strongest yet.”
A British citizen since moving to the UK at the age of 15, now 30 year-old Mohamed claims he was tortured while in U.S. custody in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan; furthermore, he alleges MI5 officers were complicit in his torture. Among the brutalities Mohamed claims he suffered were scalpels taken to his chest and genitals, starvation, sleep deprivation, and temptations by “naked or part naked” women.
The as yet unnamed MI5 agents Mohamed speaks of have “denied threatening or putting any pressure on Mr Mohamed,” according to the BBC.
Security correspondent Frank Gardner reported that “it was the first time anyone could remember the police being asked to investigate MI5.”
Mohamed had been in negotiations of a restrictive plea bargain for months, including another three year prison term on top of the seven he had already completed, a gag order, an agreement not to file lawsuits against the U.S. government, and an end to his attempts to obtain documents that proved he was tortured in U.S. Central Intelligence Agency custody.
Mohamed rejected the offer, charges against him were dropped, and he was released to Britain in February.
According to Associate Press writer David Stringer, “It is not clear what possible offenses intelligence staff or other officials could potentially have committed. The work of MI5 officers is bound by human rights laws and specific British laws related to intelligence activities.”
Nevertheless, investigations will ensue, possibly including prosecutions against U.S. military and intelligence staff “if there is evidence they have committed offenses connected to [Mohamed’s] case,” Stringer noted.
During a recent visit to Brazil, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “I have always made clear that when serious allegations are made they have got to be investigated.”
Prior to Mohamed’s case, Brown has expressed his view that any soldiers or spies that have broken laws pertaining to detainee treatment “could face possible criminal prosecution.” Two weeks ago, he told lawmakers in the UK that Britain would “revise rules governing the handling of overseas detainees” by his country’s officials, “and publish them for the first time.”
The beginnings of closure
Despite both U.S. and UK intelligence agencies denying that Mohamed, and other terrorist suspects, were held and committed torture against them, investigations by both governments have begun and intend to determine the truth.
Scotland Yard is currently investigating a 55-page dossier compiled by Cageprisoners that they received April 3, containing evidence of abuse suffered by 29 detainees, including British citizens, with the knowledge of MI5 and MI6 officers abroad.