British resident Binyam Mohamed was placed into US custody after being arrested by the Pakistani authorities in 2002. He was secretly transferred to Morocco where he was violently tortured.
His captors repeatedly slashed his chest and penis with a razorblade, but he says his worst moment was when he realised that:
‘the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers’
He discovered that, rather than work to end his ordeal, British Intelligence officers had provided his torturers with information to help them.
Many people were allegedly subjected to torture and rendition during the global counter-terrorism programme operated by the US government after attacks on 11 September 2001. Binyam is not the only one to claim that members of the British intelligence agencies were complicit in their mistreatment.
The Detainee Inquiry
In 2010, to investigate these allegations, Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned the Detainee Inquiry, which was chaired by Sir Peter Gibson.
Amnesty worked with the Detainee Inquiry for over a year to suggest ways that its procedures could meet international standards. But when the procedures were announced it became clear that the Inquiry was not fit for purpose (PDF). And we weren’t the only ones to raise concerns that it fell far short of the standards required for investigations into torture.
Fundamental flaws undermined its ability to get at the truth. The proposed inquiry:
- Was not transparent. The Government, rather than the inquiry panel, would have held the power to decide what documents were published as part of the investigation. Much of the inquiry was due to take place behind closed doors.
- It lacked power. The panel didn’t have the authority to compel witnesses to testify or to demand evidence from state and non-state parties.
- It didn’t place enough emphasis on the victims of torture and rendition. Meaningful participation by those who were mistreated and illegally detained were not central to the investigation.
The very people whose cases were being investigated were not going to be able to challenge evidence given in secret by Government officials.
Around the same time, the investigation (known as Operation Hinton) by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Service into MI5’s interrogation of Binyam Mohamed was drawing to a close.
They were also running a parallel investigation (Operation Iden) into the conduct of MI6 officers who questioned detainees held at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
In response to this and the launch of another criminal investigation – this time into MI6 complicity in secret rendition operations to Libya – the UK government decided to conclude the work of the Detainee Inquiry prematurely. The government said that it would launch a fresh inquiry in the future, providing the opportunity to establish one that actually meets international standards.
Instead David Cameron handed the job to the Intelligence and Security Committee – the very body he said in 2010 was not suitable for the job. From the moment it was announced, Amnesty and other UK human rights organisations have expressed concerns about how this process falls even further short of what's needed than the Gibson Inquiry.
It is time for the UK government to come clean about the past.