Joined: 25 Jul 2005
Location: St. Pauls, Bristol, England
|Posted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 11:26 am Post subject:
|Guardian delivers the full goods on this occasion
|The truth about torture
Britain's catalogue of shame, by Ian Cobain
o Ian Cobain
o The Guardian, Wednesday 8 July 2009
The last torture warrant in England was issued in 1641. Enraged by the mistreatment of religious dissenters and other enemies of King Charles I, parliament resolved to abolish the Star Chamber. The Habeas Corpus Act, passed that year, was to end forever what the lawmakers described as the "great and manifold mischeifes and inconveniencies" of that tribunal, which had "beene found to be an intollerable burthen to the subjects".
Today, however, there is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool. There is evidence too that in the post-9/11 world, government officials have been prepared to look the other way while British citizens, and others, have been tortured in secret prisons around the world. It is also clear that an official policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured.
The Guardian has established that Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy. What he knew of its terrible consequences is less clear: he has repeatedly been asked, in a series of letters from the Guardian, what he believed to have happened to those who were subjected to the policy, but he has repeatedly failed to answer the question. There is a growing suspicion that Blair could not have been alone, and that other very senior figures in government may have been aware of the existence of Britain's secret interrogation policy. What did David Blunkett and Jack Straw, the ministers responsible for MI5 and MI6 at the time, know about the policy and its consequences for people detained in the so-called war on terror? They too have declined to say, stating that it is the British government's policy not to condone torture, but that they cannot comment further because of a number of forthcoming court cases.
Shoulder to shoulder with the US
The genesis of the policy can be traced to the first, febrile days following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, when the British government was determined, in Blair's words, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States, and when our intelligence agencies were anxious to discover more about the threat that al-Qaida posed to the UK and its interests. With the US about to go to war to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan, it was imperative that the British should question al-Qaida suspects captured on the battlefield or caught fleeing the country, both to support the US and to gather intelligence that could protect the British public.
According to evidence heard in secret by the intelligence and security committee (ISC), the Westminster body tasked with providing political oversight of the UK's intelligence agencies, it was decided that officers from the Security Service, MI5, would take the lead in questioning detainees, with the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, standing in only when nobody from MI5 was available. The work appears to have fallen to a section of MI5 known as the international terrorism-related agent running section.
With hundreds of British Muslims thought to have attended training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the clear possibility that some would be captured by US forces, in November 2001 MI5 consulted the Crown Prosecution Service, which reassured its senior officers that interrogating detainees overseas would not impede future prosecutions in Britain.
It appears that nobody thought to give officers from either agency any advice about the Geneva Conventions, and nor were they warned that in 1972 the British government had banned five techniques of mistreatment that had been employed by the British army in Northern Ireland - hooding, being forced to stand in a stressful position with arms outstretched against a wall, being subjected to loud noise, sleep deprivation, food and drink deprivation. But, as senior officers from both organisations later reassured the ISC, they "operate in a culture that respects human rights ..."
In the White House and at the Pentagon, such respect had evaporated completely. As Cofer Black, former head of counter-terrorism at the CIA was later to tell a congressional committee: "All you need to know: there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off."
There must have been some realisation of this new fact of life at the highest levels of the British government. Craig Murray, who was later removed from his post as ambassador to Uzbekistan after denouncing the use of intelligence extracted under torture, recently told parliament's joint committee on human rights (JCHR) he had been informed by a senior Foreign Office official that a decision that such intelligence should not be questioned was taken by Jack Straw, then the foreign secretary, following discussions with senior intelligence officials. Straw describes this claim as "entirely untrue". But when Michael Wood, the FO's senior legal advisor, was asked his opinion, he is known to have concluded it was not an offence in international law to receive or possess information extracted under torture, although it would not be admissible as evidence in court.
On 9 January 2002, a few hours after Blair became the first western leader to visit Afghanistan's new post-Taliban leader, Hamid Karzai, an aircraft carrying the first group of MI5 interrogators touched down at Bagram airfield, 32 miles north of Kabul. A number of MI6 officers were already in Afghanistan, however, and the following day one of them conducted the first British interrogation of a detainee held by US forces. Immediately after the interrogations ended, senior intelligence officers back in London received a clear signal that they and government ministers would need to find innovative ways of co-operating with their US allies in the new, gloves-off world.
The MI6 officer reported that the US military had mistreated the detainee before the questioning began. It is not clear what details he or she gave, but they were sufficient to provoke a remarkably rapid response. The next day clear instructions were sent to the officer - and copied to every other MI6 and MI5 officer in the field - explaining how to deal with this situation. The speed of the reaction could suggest that the solution devised by senior MI5 and MI6 officers and the agencies' lawyers had been rushed, and was possibly ill-thought out. Conversely, it could be a sign that the dilemma had been anticipated, and the remedy very carefully considered in advance.
"Under the various Geneva Conventions and protocols," London warned its intelligence and security officers, "all prisoners, however they are described, are entitled to the same levels of protection. You have commented on their treatment. It appears from your description that they may not be being treated in accordance with the appropriate standards. Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this.
"That said, Her Majesty's Government's stated commitment to human rights makes it important that the Americans understand that we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it. In no case should they be coerced during or in conjunction with an SIS [MI6] interview of them. If circumstances allow, you should consider drawing this to the attention of a suitably senior US official locally.
"It is important that you do not engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners. As a representative of a UK public authority, you are obliged to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act 2000 which prohibits torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment. Also as a Crown Servant, you are bound by Section 31 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948, which makes acts carried out overseas in the course of your official duties subject to UK criminal law. In other words, your actions incur criminal liability in the same way as if you were carrying out those acts in the UK."
These instructions took no account of MI5 and MI6 officers' responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture. Philippe Sands QC, the professor of international law at University College London whose book Torture Team laid bare the origins of the Bush administration's torture policies, says the instructions fall far short of what is required in international law.
Sands points out that article 4 of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a party, criminalises "an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture", and that the 1998 Rome statute of the international criminal court extends criminal responsibility where military commanders and civilian superiors "should have known" that international crimes were being committed but "failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress their commission". The meaning of complicity, he adds, is clarified by a 1998 judgment by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Its appeal chamber treated "complicity" as being akin to "aiding and abetting" or "assistance" that could be "physical or in the form of moral support". A crime could be committed even if the abettor did not take any tangible action, provided the actions "directly and substantially" assisted and where there was "knowledge ... that torture is being practised".
According to Sands, the instructions "may have caused British personnel to cross a line into complicity", and that ministers who approved the policy may also be culpable.
On learning of these instructions, in a letter from MI6 in September 2004, the ISC recommended a few improvements in training for intelligence officers carrying out interrogations overseas, and suggested that the UK should seek agreement with its allies on interrogation methods. But the ISC's members did not see any major problems, and MI5 would later claim that the committee had given it "a clean bill of health". With hindsight, however, it is possible to see that a few key passages within these instructions would not only fail to do anything to supress the use of torture but might even facilitate torture and encourage it. "Not within our custody or control" ... "nor can we be seen to condone it" ... "do not engage in any activity yourself". If they wished, MI5 officers could follow these instructions to the letter while effectively arranging for people to be tortured. It was not long before this interrogation policy was underpinning MI5's relationship with some of the world's most notorious intelligence agencies.
The manner in which Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) routinely tortures those in its custody, for example, has been exhaustively documented by the US State Department and by Pakistani lawyers and parliamentarians, as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, says that only "wilful ignorance" could prevent MI5 from knowing what would happen to individuals picked up by the ISI. Despite this, MI5 repeatedly asked the ISI to detain and question British citizens in Pakistan whom they suspected of involvement in al-Qaida-inspired plots against the UK. In some instances, MI5 would tell ISI agents where they could find the suspect, and would even, working with British police officers, draw up a list of questions it wanted the ISI to put to the detainee. They would make arrangements to conduct their own interrogation a week or two later. And there is reason to believe that MI5 officers watched some ISI interrogations through a CCTV link.
So there would be no "custody or control", no question of MI5 officers being seen to condone torture, no personal engagement in "any activity". Nevertheless, there is clear and growing evidence that British citizens, and others, suffered the most appalling torture as a result.
'Drill another hole in his buttocks'
The first sign that Britain had turned to torture came when Salahuddin Amin, a terrorism suspect from Luton, was deported to Britain in February 2005. Amin, then aged 29, had surrendered 10 months earlier to the ISI. An ISI officer - an old friend of Amin's uncle - had approached members of his family in Pakistan to say that MI5 wanted him detained and questioned, and that if he didn't hand himself in other relatives would be taken instead. Amin decided his treatment might be more lenient if he surrendered. "I knew I was going to get tortured, because that's the standard," he explained later. "When the ISI picks you up, that's the minimum you're going to get."
After taking tea with a couple of ISI officers at his uncle's home, Amin was driven to a detention centre in the Sadar district of Rawalpindi. The moment the gate closed behind him, he says, he was hooded, handcuffed and shackled. For two days, in between interrogation sessions, he was placed in a cell with five brilliant white lights permanently switched on, and the guards would rattle the padlock on the door from time to time to ensure he could not sleep. On the third day, after being shown photographs of a number of friends from Britain, he says his interrogators began to beat and whip him. "They were using lashes made from strips of car tyre tied to wooden handles. They whipped me around my neck and arms and shoulders. It was extremely painful. " Then a guard came in with an electric drill. "I was told to face the wall, and the guard was told: 'Drill another hole in his buttocks.'" The guard switched on the drill, and touched Amin's backside. At this point he appears to have passed out. When he came around the questioning continued, his interrogators whipping his head.
Over the next two weeks he was interrogated almost every day. His interrogation was co-ordinated with the questioning of 20 other men - one in New York, one in Ottawa, and 18 in London - who had been detained a few days earlier. Throughout his ordeal, Amin says, it was made clear to him that this treatment had been requested by the British.
After around 15 days, he says, he was taken from his cell, blindfolded and handcuffed, and driven for around 20 minutes. He was led into a building and into an air-conditioned room. He heard someone asking, in English, for his hood and handcuffs to be removed. "There were two British people there. They shook my hand and said they were called Matt and Richard, and they were from MI5." Amin's chief torturer, a man called Major Rahman, was also in the room. "I didn't tell them I was being tortured because the major was there, I was frightened of him, of course, and it was pretty clear that they were all involved in it." It was the first of 11 meetings with "Matt and Richard" or with two other MI5 officers, a bearded man in his 30s who called himself Chris, and a long-haired woman in her 20s who did not give her name. Amin says a pattern emerged: he would be asked questions, under torture, and then he would be driven to the air-conditioned building, where MI5 would ask him the same questions again. Sometimes the MI5 officers would come to the ISI prison to question him there. In all, Amin's lawyers have established that MI5 saw him 11 times over the next few months.
Amin was eventually deported to the UK, where he and four other men were convicted of conspiring to bomb a target in the south-east of England, possibly the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London or the Bluewater shopping centre in London. Each of them is serving life. The trial judge ruled that Amin's treatment had been "physically oppressive" but that it fell short of torture. Human Rights Watch, among others, are dismissive of this ruling, insisting: "The UK has ... been complicit in the illegal detention, forcible transfer to the UK and torture of some terrorism suspects. These have included Salahuddin Amin." One of Scotland Yard's most senior counter-terrorism detectives has also said, privately, that he accepts Amin was tortured. The MI5 officer who identified himself as Richard gave evidence at Amin's trial, but only in camera, behind closed doors.
Lying down, he could touch the ceiling with his knees
Three months after Amin was deported to the UK, the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith was allowed into the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to interview Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed, from Notting Hill in west London, had been detained without trial since he was picked up at Karachi airport three years earlier after twice trying to leave Pakistan with a false passport. His story about what had happened to him in the intervening three years was truly shocking by any standard. During subsequent court proceedings it would become clear that every word was true. After being tortured by Pakistani agents, Mohamed was questioned by a bearded British man. He was then flown to Morocco where, over the next 18 months, he was beaten, bombarded with terrible noises, scalded with burning liquid, his limbs were stretched, and scalpels were used to slice inch-long incisions across his chest and penis. At one point, he says, interrogators told him his GCSE grades, asked about named staff at the housing association that owned his London bedsit, and about a man who taught him kickboxing in Notting Hill.
It later emerged at the high court in London that the bearded man was an MI5 officer who reported, in a telegram to headquarters, that he had told Mohamed that he would receive "more lenient" treatment if he co-operated. His telegram concluded: "I suspect that he will only begin to provide information of genuine value if he comes to believe that it is genuinely in his interests to do so. I don't think he has yet reached this point." Shortly after, Mohamed was flown to Rabat. The high court heard that MI5 fed information and photographs to the CIA, which were then handed to the Moroccan authorities and used as the basis for questions put to Mohamed while he was being tortured. MI5 also admitted supplying the CIA with questions for Mohamed.
While Stafford Smith was hearing Mohamed's harrowing account, another Briton was being tortured in Pakistan. Zeeshan Siddiqui, then aged 24, was a would-be jihadist with a history of mental health problems who had disappeared from his parents' home in Hillingdon, west London, many months before. After being detained near Peshawar by a different Pakistani agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), he says that he was beaten, deprived of sleep, forcibly catheterised, and had chemicals injected up his nose.
Siddiqui later gave a statement to his lawyer in London in which he said that he was strapped to a bed and tortured for 11 days before being questioned by four British intelligence officers. "They said to me there are people from the British embassy who are designed to help people like you. We are not those people. At a later stage we will try and get those people to speak to you. They told me they are from the intelligence. They said ... anything you can tell us today we can tell our Pakistani friends and they can help you."
The IB's torturers have themselves confirmed that Siddiqui's account was true. These agents told Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, that British intelligence officers were perfectly aware that this British citizen was being "processed in the traditional way". When Siddiqui was eventually brought before a court, he was in such a poor physical state that the magistrate ordered that he receive immediate medical treatment.
The following year, a man from Rochdale called Rangzieb Ahmed, who was under surveillance by MI5 and detectives from Greater Manchester police, was picked up by the ISI after flying to Pakistan. The police later admitted that they and MI5 drew up a list of questions for Ahmed and handed them over to the ISI. By the time Ahmed was deported to Britain 13 months later he had three fingernails missing from his left hand. He too was questioned at one point by two intelligence officers, and subsequently told his lawyers that these men "stated specifically that they were not from the British consulate". On arrival in the UK, Ahmed was charged with membership of al-Qaida, largely on the basis of evidence that was gathered in Manchester and Dubai before he travelled to Pakistan. His lawyers attempted to prevent the trial from going ahead because of the torture he had suffered. They failed and he is now serving a life sentence.
Rashid Rauf, a man from Birmingham, was detained in Pakistan during the summer of 2006 and accused of serious terrorist offences. Pakistani officials boasted that he had been "broken" during interrogation. When he was finally brought before court several months later, he told his lawyer and family members that he had been held in a cell that was so small that when he lay on his back he could touch the ceiling with his knees. His brother Tayib told the Guardian: "He had no idea where he was. Whenever he was moved from cell to cell he would have a hood placed over his head. He said that when he was being interviewed he could hear an English accent in the room. He could not see anything because he still had the hood on."
Rauf's lawyer, Hashmat Habib, has told Human Rights Watch that when he was eventually able to see his client, his torso was badly scarred. Pakistani sources insisted that Rauf was mistreated in custody and that the British were aware of what was happening, and other sources say that plans to prosecute Rauf in the UK were scrapped because the torture he had suffered had been so severe.
In December 2007, the Pakistani authorities claimed that Rauf had escaped when he was taken from prison and allowed to pray alone at a mosque in Rawalpindi. His family were scornful of the claim, and Habib predicted that Rauf's death would be announced at some point in the future. In November last year, the Pakistani government announced that Rauf had been killed by a missile fired from an unmanned US drone flying over a remote mountainous region on the Afghan border.
Other young men have told similar, harrowing stories alleging British collusion in torture. The descriptions that some have given of the place they were tortured, and of the appearance of their tormenters, suggests they may have been held in the same ISI prison in Rawalpindi as Salahuddin Amin. Pakistani police records show that Tariq Mahmood, a taxi driver from Birmingham who was abducted by the ISI in Rawalpindi in October 2003, was taken to that prison to be tortured. Mahmood's family say that he too was questioned by British officials.
'We were not getting as much information as we should'
There is a persistent view that intelligence extracted under torture is worthless, but there is no sign that MI5 or MI6 take that view. As Straw told the ISC in November 2004: "It does not follow that if it is extracted under torture, it is automatically untrue. But there is a much higher probability of it being embellished." And this, as Straw went on to make clear, raises a moral dilemma. "If you do get a bit of information which seems to be completely credible, which may have been extracted through unacceptable practices, do you ignore it? You cannot ignore it if the price of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead."
There is evidence that British interrogators were not only influenced by the practices of their US counterparts, but came under pressure from them. When seven British soldiers were prosecuted over the abuse of Iraqi civilians in army custody in late 2003 - one pleaded guilty and six were acquitted - the court martial heard that British military intelligence officers had been under pressure to "get more out of detainees". As Brigadier Ewan Duncan, director of the Intelligence Corps, told the hearing: "The US had a view that we were not getting as much information and intelligence out of the prisoners which UK forces held as we should in their opinion." He added: "Members of the UK intelligence community, military and civilian, held a similar view."
And then, after the suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system in July 2005 that killed 52 commuters and injured 966, and the attempted suicide bombings in London of a fortnight later, huge numbers were rounded up to be questioned. In Pakistan alone, President Pervez Musharraf ordered the arrest of more than 800 people. Some of those detained in Pakistan and the Middle East were doubtless would-be terrorists. Others were utterly blameless.
Alam Ghafoor, for example, a businessman from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was detained in Dubai shortly after the bombings and tortured for 10 days. As well as being beaten and threatened with execution he was deprived of sleep for so long that he began hallucinating. He says his interrogators made clear that this treatment had been requested by the British. Asked why he had been picked up, Ghafoor says he was told he resembled one of the suicide bombers. His business partner, Mohammed Rafiq Siddique, who was also detained and tortured, says he was told that he must have been involved in the bombings: not only did he share a name with one of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, but he lived in the same Yorkshire town, Dewsbury.
A British consular official who visited Ghafoor towards the end of his incarceration sent a fax to London that reported: "Mr Ghafoor was sitting in the room when I entered. I introduced myself and asked his name. He immediately started to cry. He apologised and told me he was so relieved to have a visit from the Embassy, but I encouraged him to release his feelings as I thought it might help him feel better. He then told me he had been so exhausted and unable to think straight he had signed documents in which he thinks he admitted to knowing the bombers at school, and that he was the mastermind behind the London bombings on 07/07."
Tahir Shah, an author and film-maker from London who is the son of Idries Shah, a renowned Sufi teacher and writer, has a similar story to tell. Shah was detained in the Pakistani city of Peshawar at around the same time that Ghafoor was held in Dubai, seemingly for no reason other than that he has a Muslim name and a British passport. Over 16 days, Shah was deprived of sleep and forced to assume stress positions for long periods. His interrogations, he says, took place in a "fully equipped torture chamber". Shah was eventually deported to London, where a man he assumes to have been an MI5 officer returned his passport. "An hour does not go by without me getting a flash of that torture room and that cell," he says. "Ask anyone who has been blindfolded, chained, taken out to be shot and shut up in solitary without anything but a concrete floor, and they'll tell you the same thing: it changes you."
One young man, a doctor from London, was detained by the IB in Karachi the following month and tortured for two months before being questioned by British intelligence officers. He says he was beaten, whipped, deprived of sleep and forced to witness the torture of others. He also says he was asked only about the London bombings. British consular officials in the city repeatedly told his family that they had no idea who was holding him, or where; it later transpired that he was being tortured in a building directly opposite their offices.
The IB agents involved later told Human Rights Watch's Ali Dayan Hasan that British intelligence officers had always been fully aware of the young man's whereabouts.
Like Ghafoor, Siddique and Shah, the doctor was eventually released without charge. He remains deeply traumatised.
It is not only in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates that the British authorities are alleged to have effectively outsourced the torture of British citizens. Jamil Rahman, a British citizen from south Wales, was detained in his wife's family's village in northern Bangladesh in December 2005 and says he was tortured by Bangladeshi intelligence agents before being questioned by two MI5 officers who called themselves Liam and Andrew. When he told these men he was being tortured, he alleges that the two men said they "needed a break". Andrew is said to have added: "They haven't done a very good job on you." Rahman says he was then beaten, had extreme pressure exerted on his testicles, and was told that his wife, who was detained in a nearby room, was to be raped. Liam and Andrew then returned to continue the questioning, he says. Rahman says he was released after three weeks, but his passport was withheld, and he was warned not to talk to anyone about his ordeal. He says that he would occasionally be summoned to be questioned again, and that if he did not co-operate, Liam and Andrew would "take a break", during which time he would again be beaten and threatened with execution. This went on for more than two years, he says. Rahman returned to Britain when his passport was eventually returned by Foreign Office consular officials in May 2008. His lawyers have embarked on a claim for damages against the home secretary. He is also being treated for post-traumatic stress.
'Make sure you say that you were treated properly'
According to those who treat victims of torture, the secrecy that surrounds the practice, and the subsequent denials of the torturers, intensifies their patients' mental anguish. Simon Carruth, chief executive of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, says: "Recent years have seen a growing appetite for governments to adopt the very practices they once unequivocally deplored. Denials about torture no longer come only from the perpetrators seeking to conceal their crimes, but also from eminent politicians and academics for whom the global preoccupation with the threat of terrorism outweighs human rights obligations."
The growing evidence of Britain's collusion in torture has, perhaps inevitably, been accompanied by increased secrecy during court proceedings, and by a rash of official denials. A highly misleading statement was issued by Greater Manchester police, for example, after it emerged in court that its officers had helped MI5 compile a list of questions that were handed to ISI officers interrogating Rangzieb Ahmed, the man whose fingernails were subsequently ripped out. The response of British intelligence agencies to Ahmed's allegation that its officers colluded in his torture were heard in camera. The judge at Manchester crown court was asked to dismiss the case against Ahmed on the grounds that British officials had colluded in his torture: his ruling on the matter is secret and is kept locked in a safe that an unidentified government official brought to the building. When Salahuddin Amin lost his appeal against conviction for conspiracy to cause explosions, long sections of the court's judgment were completely blacked out before it was made public. And lawyers from the CPS and the Treasury Solicitors Department have been employed to dispute victims' accounts of their mistreatment.
The Foreign Office has made no attempt to complain to the Pakistani authorities on behalf of some of the British nationals tortured there. When the so-called Tipton Three were released from Guantánamo, they say a Foreign Office official waiting for them aboard the plane instructed them: "Make sure you say that you were treated properly." David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has for months been fighting to block the publication of a summary of 42 US documents relating to the mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed, papers that two judges say contain "powerful evidence" of torture. Stafford Smith has pointed out that it is an offence in international law to conceal evidence of torture. "But put that aside," he added, "it is high time the government recognised the moral obligation to make public this medieval criminality whenever it occurs. Why not? Do our officials want to be in an endless conspiracy with torturers?"
Martin Scheinin, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, is quite clear about what is happening: the British government, he says, has been attempting to "conceal illegal acts from oversight bodies or judicial authorities, or to protect itself from criticism, embarrassment and - most importantly - liability".
Miliband repeatedly states that the government "condemns" torture and does not "condone" torture, but does not address the allegation that the UK was "complicit" in Binyam Mohamed's illegal detention and severe mistreatment. In July last year, Miliband told the Commons: "The Security Service has checked for any relevant information in the light of the media allegations [about Mohamed] and informed me that there is nothing to suggest that it has supported torture in Pakistan or anywhere else."
Four months later, Jacqui Smith, the then home secretary, wrote to Andrew Dismore, the MP who chairs the JCHR. "The Security Service have checked for any relevant information in the light of the allegations and my understanding is that there is no basis to the allegations." Smith added that MI5 and MI6 "do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone" the use of torture, and that their policy was not to carry out any act "which they know" would result in torture.
Smith and Miliband, meanwhile, both declined to appear before the JCHR, prompting Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch, to ask: "What are they afraid of? The ministers are really inviting speculation that the UK government has something to hide."
'I believe this probably went all the way to No 10'
As a result of a little-known law, British intelligence and security officers can commit serious criminal offences overseas and escape prosecution in the UK. Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, they enjoy complete immunity in the UK, as long as a secretary of state has signed a warrant authorising that crime. Such a warrant could be signed by the foreign, home or defence secretary of the day.
As the bill was passing through parliament, there were a few grumbles in the Commons, and more than a few raised eyebrows, but it was passed into law. After all, MPs reasoned, how could the intelligence agencies do their job without indulging in a little bribery or burglary from time to time? Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, would later concede that once the bill became law, British intelligence officers could be given a licence to kill, although he quickly added that during his 38-year career, assassinations had "played no part in the policy of Her Majesty's government". Whether any class seven authorisations, as the warrants are known, have been signed off by ministers to protect intelligence officers involved in post-9/11 interrogations is unknown, however: when David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, posed a parliamentary question asking how many have been signed in recent years, he was told the figure could not be revealed "because it would assist those unfriendly to the UK".
A glimpse of the extent of ministerial approval for the policy that led to people being tortured was offered during a civil action brought on behalf of Binyam Mohamed at the high court in London last year. Among those who gave evidence, identified only as Witness B, was the bearded MI5 officer who questioned Mohamed in Pakistan in April 2002. Witness B eventually told the court: "I was aware that the general question of interviewing detainees had been discussed at length by Security Service management legal advisers and government, and I acted in this case, as in others, under the strong impression that it was considered to be proper and lawful."
So who in government was party to these lengthy discussions? How high up did it go? Could it be that this is what is contained in the 42 classified US documents that Miliband is attempting to prevent the public from seeing? Stafford Smith has seen the documents, but is prevented by law from revealing their contents. However, when asked how far up the decisions over Mohamed were taken, Stafford Smith says this: "There are things I can't talk about because they're classified. I can't say why I believe that this probably went all the way to No 10. I would be astounded if No 10 didn't know what was going on."
Dearlove also says that British intelligence officers would never become involved in "questionable practices" without legal and political cover.
Speaking in the Commons in June, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, named Jack Straw and David Blunkett as two men who must have been responsible for approving the policy. Straw, as foreign secretary at the time the interrogation policy was drawn up, was responsible for MI6. When the Guardian asked Straw what he knew of the policy, and its consequences, he replied: "The British government unreservedly condemns the use of torture. Our policy is, and always has been, not to participate in, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose, and I have followed that policy faithfully. In light of the continuing criminal and civil litigation, during which a number of the issues that you refer to in your letter will be scrutinised by the courts and the police, I am not going to comment in detail on individual points or allegations."
When the Guardian approached Blunkett, who, as home secretary at the time, was responsible for MI5, he initially suggested that it was libellous even to ask him questions about the matter. Then, three days after Straw's response, Blunkett used exactly the same form of words to reply, except that he substituted Straw's "I have followed that policy faithfully" with "I reject absolutely that I authorised any action that I believed would lead to, or involve, torture".
None of the matters Straw and Blunkett were asked about are, in fact, subjudice.
While neither of them would acknowledge whether or not they were aware of the secret interrogation policy, it is clear that Blair did know of its existence. On 24 May 2004 he wrote a letter to the ISC which stated that British intelligence officers had been given new instructions to report any suspicion that the people they were questioning were being treated "in an inhumane or degrading" manner, rather than simply consider drawing it to the attention of those detaining the individual. It is clear Blair was signalling a change in the interrogation policy. The Guardian has learned from a reliable source that MI5 officers are now told that if a detainee says he is being tortured, the officers must not return to see them again. They are still not obliged to intervene to stop the torture, however, and what has happened in some instances is that American interrogators have taken over.
The Guardian has repeatedly asked Blair about any role he played in approving the policy, whether he knew that it led to people being tortured, whether he personally authorised interrogations that took place in Guantánamo and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, and whether he made any effort to change the policy. Blair's spokesman responded by saying: "It is completely untrue that Mr Blair has ever authorised the use of torture. He is opposed to it in all circumstances. Neither has he ever been complicit in the use of torture."
When the Guardian pointed out to Blair that it had not suggested that he had authorised the use of torture - as opposed to asking him whether he had authorised a policy that led to people being tortured - and that his spokesman had not answered the questions that were asked, his spokesman replied: "Tony Blair does not condone torture, has never authorised it nor colluded in it. He continues to think our security services have done and continue to do a crucial and very good job."
So Blair knew of the policy, but refuses to say whether he authorised it.
When faced with criticism, ministers repeat their mantra
By February of this year, Scheinin, the UN special rapporteur, had seen enough to conclude that British intelligence personnel had "interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani ISI in so-called safe houses, where they were being tortured". Spelling out the legal and moral implications, Scheinin added: "The active participation by a state through the sending of interrogators or questions, or even the mere presence of intelligence personnel at an interview with a person who is being held in places where he is tortured or subject to other inhuman treatment, can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning torture." The government responded with its now-familiar mantra. It told the UN that it wished to stress "its abhorrence of torture" and denied any "participation in or encouragement" of such practice. It added that it would deal with the specifics of Scheinin's report "in due course".
Meanwhile, the ISC, the body that is supposed to oversee the intelligence and security agencies, refused for months to accept that it had any responsibility to find out what had been happening. Last summer, Margaret Beckett, the then chair of the ISC, told the Guardian that it was not part of her committee's role to investigate allegations that MI5 was complicit in the torture of British citizens. The current chair, Kim Howells, refuses even to respond to questions about the matter.
Realising that the ISC was sitting on its hands, parliament's joint committee on human rights launched its own investigation and is due to publish a report later this year. But as the evidence of official British collusion in serious criminal conduct has continued to mount, so too have calls for a judicial inquiry.
MI5's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not get caught
In August last year, the high court ruled that Witness B may have been involved in "possible criminal wrongdoing" when he interrogated Binyam Mohamed. Two months later, as a result of that ruling, Jacqui Smith asked the attorney general, Baroness Scotland, to investigate. Five months later, the attorney general called in Scotland Yard. She appears to have had little choice, given the damning evidence that had emerged in court. More than three months later, the Yard maintains its officers have done nothing but study the papers from the case.
If class seven authorisations were signed off to protect the MI5 officers who questioned Mohamed and the other torture victims, then they will enjoy complete immunity from prosecution. But the law can offer immunity only to intelligence officers, and covers only those crimes they commit overseas. It offers no such protection for senior intelligence officers operating from London, or for Manchester police officers formulating questions to be handed to the ISI, or for government lawyers drafting interrogation policies that led to people being tortured, or for government ministers who signed off on such policies.
While the prospect of criminal prosecution may appear remote at this stage, it seems inevitable that civil actions being brought on behalf of victims of torture will keep the English and European courts busy for many years to come. And although MI5 and government lawyers will attempt to ensure that any incriminating matters are heard in secret, it seems equally inevitable that more damning details will steadily trickle out.
According to the late Peter Wright, whose book Spycatcher revealed many of the secrets that he had carefully hoarded during his 22 years as an MI5 officer, new recruits would be expected to take to heart its 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not get caught." It was amid the growing realisation that MI5 had been caught, and that its role in the torture of British citizens was becoming clearer, that Gordon Brown told the Commons on 18 March that the interrogation policy was to be rewritten and then reviewed by the ISC. Later that day the Foreign Office told the Guardian that in Pakistan, at least, it would in future take steps to ensure it dealt "constructively" with allegations of the torture of British citizens.
So is Britain turning away from torture? Writing in the London Review of Books earlier this year, the lawyer Gareth Peirce described Brown's Commons announcement as a "moment of official embarrassment" that should worry the whole country. She added: "We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of 'national security'. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability."
But it remains to be seen to what extent the growing evidence of Britain's involvement in torture will result in real public pressure on the government. How many people are really troubled that their fellow citizens are being tortured, when they suspect those victims to be terrorists?
Government ministers may be loth to agree to an inquiry, but others take a more sanguine view. Last month, one Manchester police source told the Guardian it would be a mistake to assume that the force is deeply concerned about the Rangzieb Ahmed case. "The thinking is that most people in Manchester, and elsewhere, would think he deserved everything he got. The belief is that this will do nothing to damage our reputation."
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung