MP: Britain complicit in torture abroad

Former shadow secretary is the latest to accuse country of 'outsourcing' harsh interrogation and running secret prisons.

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London // Britain's intelligence services have been accused in parliament of "outsourcing torture" to get confessions from terrorism suspects. David Davis, a senior Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, told the House of Commons that intelligence officers had anticipated the torture of a known al Qa'eda operative when they allowed him to leave Britain and fly, first to Dubai then on to Pakistan.

By the time he arrived in Islamabad, MI5 had already tipped off their counterparts in Pakistan, who arrested him and tortured him for a year before he was returned to Britain, where he is now serving a life sentence, Mr Davis claimed. Mr Davis is calling for a judicial inquiry into the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, from Rochdale in north-west England, and into at least 14 other cases in which, he said, there are accusations terrorism suspects were tortured abroad at Britain's behest.

According to Mr Davis, "hard evidence" exists in government records over the treatment of 33-year-old Ahmed, who was convicted in December of directing terrorist activities. Ahmed, who has claimed to have been offered bribes to drop allegations that he was tortured in Pakistan with the UK's collusion, flew to Dubai from the UK in 2006. Mr Davis said neither the MI5 nor the police tried to stop him, despite the fact he had been under surveillance for some time and already had enough evidence to charge him with terrorism offences.

Instead, the intelligence services informed ISI, their counterparts in Pakistan, suggesting Ahmed be arrested "in full knowledge of the normal methods used by the ISI against terrorist suspects that it holds", the MP claimed. Mr Davis also alleged that Greater Manchester Police and MI5 provided a list of questions to be put to Ahmed, who later claimed that Pakistani interrogators had beaten him and pulled out his fingernails.

"A more obvious case of outsourcing of torture, a more obvious case of passive rendition, I cannot imagine," Mr Davis said. "He should have been arrested by the UK in 2006. He was not. The authorities knew that he intended to travel to Pakistan, so they should have prevented that. Instead, they suggested the ISI arrest him. They knew he would be tortured and they organised to construct a list of questions and provide it to ISI."

Mr Davis added that, in the past year, there had been at least 15 cases of British citizens or residents who have claimed they were "tortured by foreign intelligence agencies with the knowledge, complicity and, in some cases, presence of British intelligence officers". The MP said one case involving Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian living in Britain who spent seven years in the custody of the United States, Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, before being released without charge from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been referred to the police by the attorney general because of prima facie evidence of British complicity in his torture.

Mr Davis also cited the cases of Alam Ghafoor in the UAE; Moazzam Begg, Tariq Mahmoud, Salahuddin Amin and Rashid Rauf in Pakistan; Jamil Rahman in Bangladesh, and Azhar Khan in Egypt. "For each case, the government have denied complicity, but at the same time fiercely defended the secrecy of their actions, making it impossible to put the full facts in the public domain, despite the clear public interest in doing so," he said.

"Although the combined circumstantial evidence of complicity in all these cases is overwhelming, it has not so far been possible - because of the government's improper use of state secrecy to cover up the evidence - to establish absolutely clear sequences of cause and effect. "The battle against terrorism is not just a fight for life; it is a battle of ideas and ideals. It is a battle between good and evil. In that fight, we should never allow our standards to drop to those of our enemies."

Although the government yesterday repeated its denial of any involvement in torture, a growing number of allegations are raising serious concerns in political circles. Ian Cobain, a journalist for London's The Guardian who has written an award-winning series of articles on allegations of the torture of UK suspects overseas, said yesterday that there was little doubt the UK had been complicit in such acts.

"There is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool," he said. "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 government, meanwhile, continues to insist that it "unreservedly condemns the use of torture and its policy is not to participate in, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose".