Reprieve expresses horror at the Secret British Torture Policy

June 18, 2009

Image of hands in shackles

If a British intelligence officer learned that prisoners were being tortured by our American allies, he was not obliged to do anything to stop the abuse — under the policy promulgated by the Blair government.

“Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.

The policy, which was devised in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, offered guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers who were questioning prisoners in Afghanistan, and around the world, whom they knew were being mistreated by the American military.

In the wake of revelations in the case of Binyam Mohamed, Gordon Brown announced in March that a new policy governing torture would be made public. However, on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee, and vigorously asserted the government’s right to keep earlier editions of the policy secret.

Apparently, he did not know that the 2001 version had already been leaked by an anonymous civil servant who deemed the advice to be immoral, illegal or both. Today, the Guardian quotes extensively from the policy on its front page.

“We now know why the Foreign Secretary was so insistent on keeping this torture policy from the British people,” said Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith. “It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with the Pandora’s box of immoral decisions made at the highest level of government.”

“The Convention Against Torture clearly requires British officials to root out this kind of medieval abuse,” he went on. “The government’s torture policy was simply illegal. When Binyam Mohamed was questioned by a British agent, he thought his torture would surely end; instead, the agent was apparently under instructions from Number Ten to abandon Binyam to his fate.”


For further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

PO Box 52742
London EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900, Registered Company No. 5777831 (England)
Registered Office: 2-6 Cannon Street, London EC4M 6YH;
Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner