The United Kingdom’s Facilitation of Torture and Illegal Detention
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This article investigates the role of the United Kingdom’s politicalexecutive in facilitating or turning a blind eye to extraordinary rendition and torture of persons.The United Kingdom’s legislation introduced to combat terrorism has also curtailed humanrights and has thus come under scrutiny.
Much investigative journalism has taken place on the matter of torture, rendition and the United Kingdom’s involvement in recent years by the quality broadsheets. The Guardian’s political journalist and writer, Ian Cobain, in July 2009 wrote that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was aware of the existence of the rendition/torture policy of the Bush administration whilst in Office.
What he knew of its consequences is less clear, it is likely other very senior figures in government may have been aware of the existence of Britain’s secret interrogation policy. For example, David Blunkett and Jack Straw, the ministers responsible for MI5 and MI6 during this period, would almost certainly have some knowledge about the policy and its consequences for people detained in the War on Terror.
MI5/MI6 officers would be well aware of the torture routinely carried out in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan (which is frequently reported on by NGOs at the EU andUN and directly to the British government). It would follow that they would realize that prisoners interrogated in these countries, or questions they supplied, could potentially be part of a torture event, as this was de facto behaviour by those regimes. They would be aware that Article 4 of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture to which the United Kingdom is a party, criminalizes “an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture”.
British citizens and residents
There is evidence that the torture of United Kingdom citizens and residents continued throughout the period of the War on Terror, and were facilitated in the rendition centres foundin countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Morocco. Evidence has come to light in answers to parliamentary questions tabled by Andrew Tyrie (Chair of the All-Party parliamentary groupon extraordinary rendition) that the United Kingdom government failed to act on behalf of British nationals who complain that they have been tortured after being detained overseasduring counter-terrorism investigations. Pakistan and Egypt have been named in the torture offour United Kingdom citizens.
Andrew Tyrie MP, in a letter to David Miliband, Secretary ofState Foreign & Commonwealth Office on the 18
th February 2009, has accused the United Kingdom’s government of attempting a cover-up of allegations of involvement with Binyam Mohammed covered in the previous chapter.
The United Kingdom government has also disclosed that two other men, who were held ineither Bangladesh or Syria during counter-terrorism investigations, have alleged that they weretortured, but admits that it has not made any complaint on their behalf – and is refusing toidentify in which of the two countries they were held.
Further officials have also admitted thatthey have made no complaint on behalf of Azhar Khan, 26, from Slough, who has complainedof torture in Egypt. Khan’s allegations raise new concerns about official British complicity in torture.
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He was detained after flying to Cairo in July 2008. Lawyers representing British nationals who have been tortured in Pakistan believe that thereason for the lack of enthusiasm from the United Kingdom’s government to make and pursue complaints of ill treatment is that these individuals were detained at the request of British authorities, including MI5, and that British intelligence officers were aware that they were being tortured.
On the 23 February 2010, the human rights organisation Reprieve went tothe High Court accruing ministers of ‘failing adequately’ to ensure that United Kingdom’s intelligence personnel refrain from acts and omissions amounting to complicity in torture”.
Reprieve’s demand for a high court judicial review is based on evidence from five cases. Thecases include those of Khaled al-Makhtari, a Yemeni arrested in Iraq, Rangzieb Ahmed, aUnited Kingdom citizen held in Pakistan, four British citizens held in Kenya before beingrendered to Somalia Ð Mohammed Ezzoueck, Reza Afsharzadagen, Hanza Chentouf, andShajahan; Azhar Khan, a United Kingdom citizen detained in Egypt; Salim Awadh, a Kenyan jailed in Ethiopia, Maryam Kallis a United Kingdom citizen held in Syria and Shajed Askorand three other United Kingdom citizens said to have been tortured in Yemen.
Reprieve said examples of British agents being complicit in torture include the urging of prisoners to co-operate with their abusers, threats of rendition and knowingly feeding questions to authoritieswhen they knew prisoners were being mistreated.
An important consequence of the United Kingdom’s support, be it indirect for the security policies of regimes in the Global South that practice inhumane treatment, torture or deny due process to individuals, is that it strengthens the institutionalization of these processes and itmakes it more difficult to promote normative values.
MI5 have been accused in court cases inthe United Kingdom of facilitating inhumane treatment or worse in a series of states, which include Kenya, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Somalia and Bangladesh.
The reality for ordinary citizens and political activists in those states that are facing challengesto their demands for democratic institutions, or adherence to human rights treaties, is that theyare substantially harmed by the collusion of the United Kingdom and other governments withtheir government’s security forces.
These security forces are able to carry out violations ofhuman rights with impunity. It is difficult for governments in the Global North to promotevalues in these states, when states in the Global North have abetted in the mistreatment of detainees by aiding these states security services.
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Protection under the law
United Kingdom citizens and residents enjoy the protection of law outside of CAT and jus cogens. This further strengthens protection under international and state law. The prevention ofcruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was a right and value entrenched in the United Kingdoms’ constitution and domestic law.
The Bill of Rights Act (1688) prohibits theinfliction of ”cruel and unusual punishments”, Article 3 of the ECHR prohibited ”inhuman anddegrading treatment”. Prohibitions in the Universal Declaration of Human rights (Article 5)and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or DegradingTreatment 1987 apply.
It is therefore very clear that no British subject can lawfully be party totorture and has a responsibility to prevent torture from occurring irrespective of whether thisoccurs in the United Kingdom or abroad. Principle 1 of the United Nations Set of Principles forthe Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity (Impunity Principles) in this case could determine that the United Kingdoms’ actions in granting MI5 levels of impunity would be seen as a failure to meet its obligations to investigate violations.
These obligations require the United Kingdom government to take appropriate measures inrespect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of jurisprudence and to provide victims with effective remedies, ensure the right to know the truth about violations; and to take othernecessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.
The victory in the United Kingdom Court of Appeal for Binyam Mohammed ensures that the United Kingdom is no longer able to suppress secret evidence of its agencies alleged complicity in the torture and secret transfer of British residents to Guantanamo is seen as an important step in ensuring therule of law in respect to normative behaviour.
The principle changes to legislation in the United Kingdom that weakens the protection givento citizens under human rights legislation have closely followed the United States Patriot Act.This was introduced in the United States, granting powers of surveillance, search and seizure that would normally be considered intrusive.
This covered all areas of life and in particulare mail and Internet communications, avoiding court oversight. Immigrants, Refugees, and Minorities have similarly borne the brunt of anti-terrorism initiatives with detention, anddeportation of immigrants against whom no charges have been made.
This range of powers in the United States has been criticised as arbitrary and to undermine the human rights ofindividuals and are part of a series of measures applied with little consideration as to the reimpact on the innocent of the accused, or due process.
An outcome that has not been adequately addressed has been the impact on the general public in so far as these processes areseen as identifying a particular minority as being anti-state and, therefore, targets for hatecrimes.
We see this mirrored in the experience of minorities in the United Kingdom particularly the metropolitan centres.
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