UK may have been complicit in torture of 15 more people, court hearing reveals

June 9, 2020

There are at least 15 previously-unidentified cases of people who may have been tortured with UK complicity, it was revealed today, as part of a High Court hearing where the UK Government is trying to push all evidence of the 15 cases into a secret court.

The revelation came as part of a hearing in the Judicial Review brought by human rights NGO Reprieve and MPs David Davis (Con.) and Dan Jarvis (Lab.) on the UK Government’s failure to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture and rendition.

The Government argued that evidence of British involvement in torture and rendition should be kept behind closed doors and heard only in secret courts. This includes the product of a recent secret, internal-only MI6 review, which identified 15 new cases of potential UK complicity in torture and rendition, as happened to Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj who received a historic apology from the UK in 2018. These  15 cases have never been properly independently investigated.

The 15 cases were identified by MI6 in October 2018 in the course of an internal review – after the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report identifying several cases of potential UK complicity which had not arisen in any previous investigations (including previous internal reviews by MI5 and MI6). Reprieve believes these 15 further cases – which we understand were never seen by the ISC – may just be the tip of the iceberg. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report described hundreds of such cases but the individuals involved were not disclosed.

Maya Foa, Reprieve Director, said: When the Government broke its promise to torture survivors, it also broke the law. And now the Government is trying to push these shocking new revelations – and our call for an independent, judge-led inquiry – into secret courts. Evidence of British involvement in kidnap, torture, and rendition, must be opened up to public scrutiny so that victims can seek redress – and so that this country may not be doomed to repeat mistakes of the so-called war on terror. 

David Davis MP, said: Last year when the Government admitted that it would not proceed with its promised inquiry into torture, after years of dither and delay, I was frankly exasperated. And when I said in Parliament ‘see you in court’, I meant it. But what I meant was transparent, open court – not this un-British, Kafkaesque, secret courts process, hidden away from public scrutiny for the Government to sweep any embarrassing revelations into a dark corner. We owe it to torture survivors, and to the British public, to take an honest, transparent look at this terrible period. 

Dan Jarvis MP, said: The UK is not, nor should it ever be, above the law. Our response to the threat of terrorism must be unequivocal, but it must also be legal. As mounting evidence has shown, that standard has not always been met. This call for an inquiry is not an attempt to damage Britain’s reputation but to rebuild it. I believe the government has a legal and moral obligation to investigate what happened, prevent it happening again, and the public has a right to know what was done in its name.

BACKGROUND

The British Government has never delivered on promises to hold a fully independent, judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in US torture and rendition of individuals as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. This legal action claims that the Government’s refusal to hold an inquiry is irrational, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (under which there is an obligation to fully investigate credible allegations of torture), and violates the common law prohibition of torture.

In 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the so-called Gibson inquiry to investigate UK complicity in such abuses. The Gibson inquiry lacked the independence and powers needed to get to the truth of the UK’s role in post 9/11 abuses, and was boycotted by NGOs including Reprieve before being scrapped altogether by then-Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke in 2012. Clarke promised that a fully independent inquiry would be launched once ongoing police investigations were concluded, but this never materialised, and Mr Clarke maintains that a fully independent inquiry is needed.

In 2014, the Government announced an inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), but in delivering its report in 2018, the ISC accepted its findings could only be treated as provisional and incomplete, as Downing Street had blocked it from interviewing multiple witnesses.

In July 2019, then-Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington told Parliament: I can confirm today that the Government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area. The Government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation.

Over nearly two decades, evidence of UK complicity has  come out only in dribs and drabs, after repeated aborted investigations. Potentially hundreds of cases have never been fully investigated.

In May 2018, the Government was forced to give an unprecedented public apology for British involvement in Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar’s  rendition to torture. They were kidnapped by the CIA with the help of British intelligence in 2004, before being tortured in CIA custody. The couple were subsequently rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya.

ENDS