Inquiry demanded into UK torture claims

By staff

Campaigners are demanding complete clarity from the government amid claims it agreed to cover-up the torture of British national by US agents.

Yesterday court documents alleged the UK government was complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, who has been at Guantanamo Bay for the last five years.

According to two high court judges, the government agreed not to disclose Mr Mohamed’s torture after the United States threatened to withdraw intelligence cooperation.

The threats were made during the height of the Bush administration’s war on terror, but it was unclear yesterday whether they had been repeated since the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Counsel for the Foreign Office told the court that the threat to end the bilateral intelligence relationship was still present under President Obama, but Gordon Brown said he was not aware of any such arrangement.

In a statement to the Commons today, foreign secretary David Miliband threw doubt on the veracity, or at the very least the wording, of those claims, saying Washington had not threatened to break off intelligence cooperation.

In his response, shadow foreign secretary William Hague expressed concern at the allegations.

“Is he [Mr Miliband] suggesting the court of appeal has misrepresented the US government’s position?” Mr Hague asked.

Mr Miliband did not give a clear answer to that question.

Asked about whether there was British complicity in torture, the foreign secretary said the attorney general was investigating the matter after it was referred to him by the home secretary last year.

Former home secretary David Davis, who broke the story yesterday in a statement to the Commons, said: “What he has been saying today is almost entirely inconsistent with that which the judges said yesterday.”

“Isn’t it the case that both this government and the Bush administration has confused intelligence with abuse?” asked Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, in a strongly worded response.

The Liberal Democrats have described the US stance under George Bush as “blackmail”.

“It is simply incredible that the US government would have halted intelligence co-operation with the UK if this information had been made public,” party leader Nick Clegg said.

“If British ministers were complicit in any way in the use of torture, or helped the US authorities to cover it up, they could face consequences in the international criminal court. The seriousness of these allegations cannot be overstated.

“Gordon Brown must immediately publish all documents about this case.”

In a briefing this morning No 10 insisted the allegations were not new but dated back to October.

“The home secretary has already referred the facts in the case to the attorney general,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.

He added that London had not made any representations to Washington “on this particular case”, but that on general issues of “intelligence-sharing” there has been direct contact with the Americans.

Amnesty International UK said there was no justification to stop documents proving the “absolutely deplorable” torture of Mr Mohamed from coming to light.

“There now needs to be an independent inquiry into allegations that the UK has in some way been complicit in this man’s torture and the wider practice of rendition and secret detention,” said the human rights group’s director Kate Allen.

“In addition to expediting the release of documents we’re calling on the foreign secretary David Miliband to redouble his efforts to secure the immediate release of Binyam from Guantanamo.

“We also want the UK government to press for the release of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, two other men with longstanding links to the UK.”

Allegations of complicity by British security forces in the torture of Mr Mohamed came to light yesterday when they were presented to MPs by former shadow home secretary David Davis.

Mr Mohamed, an Ethiopian national with British residency, has been at Guantanamo for the last five years.

He was first arrested over a visa violation while traveling in Pakistan in 2002 before being rendered to Morocco in a CIA plane and tortured for 18 months.

Later that year he was transferred to the secret ‘dark prison’ in Kabul and tortured until being moved to Guantanamo later in 2004.

The Foreign Office has previously told it was involved in active discussions with the US authorities to arrange the release of Mr Mohamed.

It has also consistently denied knowledge or complicity of or in his torture.

Clare Algar, the executive director of the human rights group, said: “Binyam was tortured horribly in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan and it is clear from this case that the British security services were complicit in that torture.”