When several UK citizens alleged that they had been tortured in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorism and that MI5 officials were aware of this, indeed encouraged it, the Government stonewalled by saying that it did not condone torture. This did not of course answer the question of whether they had indeed been complicit in the brutal treatment of certain named individuals. The allegations are extremely serious. Salahuddin Amin from Luton said that in between interviews by MI5 he was beaten, whipped, deprived of sleep, and threatened with an electric drill. Rengzieb Ahmed from Rochdale said he was beaten and whipped and had three fingernails ripped out. The lawyers of Rashid Rauf from Birmingham say they saw physical evidence of his torture. Zeeshan Siddiqui was beaten, drugged and forcibly catheterised, and became so traumatised he couldn’t stand trial and was had to be transferred to hospital. A doctor from the English south coast was tortured for 2 months before being questioned by MI5. What is significant now is that these claims, which have long been known, have been corroborated by officers within the notorious Pakistani ISI who did the torturing and confirm that it was undertaken with the full knowledge of British intelligence. So how can those responsible – not American jailers at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, but British officials outsourcing torture to countries known to practise it – be brought to book?
The demand for a public inquiry has been widespread, including the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, the LibDems, Amnesty International, the former DPP, the government’s own independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, a former chief of defence staff, and Lord King, the former Conservative defence and Northern Ireland secretary. So far the Government has resisted this on the grounds that, in a carefully crafted formula, it did not collude in, solicit or even directly participate in abuses of prisoners. But that is a jesuitical evasion of the issue since that was never the charge. The charge is that they were ‘complicit’, and that is defined in international law as including intangible assistance such as ‘moral support’ or even simply ‘lnowledge’. The Human Rights Watch report just published states that UK officials were “breathing down the necks” of those administering the torture in their determination to get more information.
There are two reforms needed to overcome an impasse of this kind. First, Parliament, not just the Executive, should have the right to set up its own Commission of Inquiry where it thought fit. This would circumvent the reluctance of No.10 to initiate an inquiry when the Government itself could be seriously embarrassed. Secondly, there needs to be legal provision whereby British persons charged with offences abroad can be prosecuted in the UK courts. On that basis the DPP would be able to organise a prosecution in the UK where he believed there was sufficient evidence to mount charges. And such a right to take action would apply not only in the case of government-sponsored personnel, but also corporate officials accused of corruption, environmental degradation or any other criminal offence abroad.