United Nations report exposes UK collusion in secret detention and torture

January 27, 2010

The UN has today released a wide-ranging report on secret detention which will prove embarrassing for states like the UK who claim respect for the rule of law.

In this report, UN experts put the US-led ‘rendition programme’ in context as another sad chapter in the history of torture and secret detention, alongside the 1970s campaigns of disappearances in Latin America, and the gulags of the USSR. And in case of any doubt, the UN sets out in unequivocal terms exactly why such practices are illegal.

In an investigation spanning 19 countries across all regions of the world, four independent UN bodies worked together to interview victims of secret detention and canvass governments in order to understand and redress the victims’ plight.

The findings make uncomfortable reading for the UK government who – despite their public condemnation of such practices – are revealed as complicit in war crimes like kidnap, secret detention, and torture.

Revelations include:

    Confirmation that the UK knew about US renditions practices from 2002, yet continued to hand vulnerable prisoners to US custody with no process until well into 2004;Confirmation that the UK knowingly received information obtained from prisoners being interrogated in US ghost detention;Numerous cases showing that the UK took advantage of illegal secret detention practices over at least three continents by colluding in torture;Unanswered questions in relation to the number of prisoners held by torturous Arab regimes at the request of the UK;Indications that the infamous ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan may have been run by the FBI.

Worryingly, the report indicates that the UK intelligence services lack the oversight that would prevent crimes like complicity in torture from recurring in the future. It recommends that: 

“To ensure accountability in intelligence co-operation, truly independent intelligence review and oversight mechanisms should be established… such mechanisms should have access to any information, including sensitive information…” 

The report warns of the dangers of intelligence services keeping secrets from the bodies that are charged with policing them.  Precisely this has befallen the UK, leading to the ISC’s ‘independent’ Report on Rendition containing multiple, serious and embarrassing errors.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: 

“Sadly, our government has teamed up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people, using information extracted by violence, keeping secrets and protecting their thugs and cronies. It is shameful that it takes a UN report to reveal these shoddy practices to the British people. The victims are still waiting for an apology. ”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said: 

“The British government comes out of this looking like the War on Terror’s spineless ‘middle management’. It’s time to live up to our own – ancient – standards and refuse to work with regimes that torture.”

The full report or executive summary may be downloaded below.

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or visit www.reprieve.org.uk.

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 Guantánamo 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.’

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