In the last year, there have been at least 15 cases of British citizens or British residents claiming to be tortured by foreign intelligence agencies with the knowledge, complicity and, in some cases, presence of British intelligence officers. One case—that of Binyam Mohammed—has been referred to the police by the Attorney-General, which implies that there is at least a prima facie case to answer. The most salient others include Moazzamm Begg, Tariq Mahmoud, Salahuddin Amin and Rashid Rauf, all in Pakistan, Jamil Rahman in Bangladesh, Alam Ghafoor in United Arab Emirates, and Azhar Khan and others in Egypt.
For each case, the Government have denied complicity, but at the same time fiercely defended the secrecy of their actions, making it impossible to put the full facts in the public domain, despite the clear public interest in doing so. Although the combined circumstantial evidence of complicity in all these cases is overwhelming, it has not so far been possible—because of the Government’s improper use of state secrecy to cover up the evidence—to establish absolutely clear sequences of cause and effect.
In 2005-06, Rangzieb Ahmed was a suspected terrorist who was kept under surveillance for about a year before leaving the country to go first to Dubai and on a subsequent trip to Pakistan. During that time, evidence was collected against him, on the basis of which he was later convicted. Let me repeat that point, as it is very important to my subsequent argument—during that time, evidence was collected, on the basis of which he was subsequently convicted.
Despite the authorities having that evidence, he was—astonishingly—not arrested but instead allowed to leave the country. To understand how odd this decision was, we should remember that this was only a year after the tragedy of 7/7, after which agencies were criticised for allowing terrorist suspects to leave the country to go to Pakistan. Since they knew he was leaving, since they knew where he was going, and since they had more than enough evidence to arrest him, allowing him to leave was clearly deliberate. That the authorities knew his itinerary is demonstrated by the fact that he was kept under surveillance when he was in Dubai. He later went on to Pakistan, where the Pakistani authorities were warned of his arrival by the British Government. The British intelligence agencies wrote to their opposite numbers in Pakistan—the members of the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence—suggesting that they arrest him. I use the word “suggest” rather than “request” or “recommend” because of the peculiar language of the ISI’s communication No doubt the Minister can confirm that for himself by asking to see the record.
We also know that the intelligence officer who wrote to the Pakistanis did so in full knowledge of the normal methods used by the ISI against terrorist suspects that it holds. That is unsurprising, as it is common public knowledge in Pakistan. The officer would therefore be aware that “suggesting” arrest was equivalent to “suggesting” torture.
Rangzieb Ahmed was arrested by the ISI on 20 August 2006. Once he was taken into custody in Pakistan by the ISI, the Manchester police and MI5 together created a list of questions to be put to him. MI5 arranged for those questions to be given to the ISI.
Rangzieb Ahmed was viciously tortured by the ISI. He says, among other things, that he was beaten with wooden staves the size of cricket stumps and whipped with a 3 ft length of tyre rubber nailed to a wooden handle, and that three fingernails were removed from his left hand. There is a dispute between Ahmed and British intelligence officers about exactly when his fingernails were removed, but an independent pathologist employed by the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that it happened during the period when he was in Pakistani custody.Rangzieb was asked questions, under torture, about the UK by ISI officers. He claims that he saw “UK/Pakistan Secret” on the question list used by the ISI. That was presumably the list put together by the Manchester police and MI5. After about 13 days, he was visited by an officer from MI5 and another from MI6. He claims to have told them, during questioning, that he had been tortured. They deny that, but it is significant that they did not return for further interviews. By that stage, MI5 policy was not to return after any interview in which the subject claimed that he had been tortured. The British agents did not return, but Rangzieb was subsequently questioned by Americans.
Is it also an extraordinary, if sinister, coincidence that the Manchester police accessed Rangzieb Ahmed’s medical records within days of the MI5/MI6 interview? Why would they do that if he was in perfect health?
The authorities know full well that this story is an evidential showcase for the policy of complicity in torture, should that evidence ever come out. One way in which the in camera veil of secrecy might be lifted would be a civil case by Mr. Ahmed against the Government for their complicity in torture. Part of that process would involve challenging the in camera rulings and revealing the details of agency involvement. Just such a case was being considered by Mr. Ahmed, and on 20 April this year he was visited in prison by his solicitor and a specialist legal adviser to discuss it.
Mr. Ahmed tells us that a week later he was visited by an officer from MI5 and a policeman. That is the story told today on the front pages of the Daily Mail and The Guardian. During the course of their visit they said that they would like him to help in the fight against terror with information about extremism. This is perfectly proper.
However, the sinister part of this visit was an alleged request to drop his allegations of torture: if he did that, they could get his sentence cut and possibly give him some money. If this request to drop the torture case is true, it is frankly monstrous. It would at the very least be a criminal misuse of the powers and funds under the Government's Contest strategy, and at worst a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
I would normally be disinclined to believe the word of a convicted terrorist. However, when he initially told his lawyer about it, he did not want to pursue the matter. Also, in common with many other criminals, after the scandal of the taping of the current Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), on a prison visit, he believes all these meetings are taped and he says this will back him up...
Let me conclude by saying that our handling of the subject of torture has, in my view, been completely wrong. The Americans have made a clean breast of their complicity, while explicitly not prosecuting the junior officers who were acting under instruction at a time of enormous duress and perceived threat after 9/11. We have done the opposite.
The battle against terrorism is not just a fight for life; it is a battle of ideas and ideals. It is a battle between good and evil, between civilisation and barbarism. In that fight, we should never allow our standards to drop to those of our enemies. We cannot defend our civilisation by giving up the values of that civilisation.
If you want to read the full speech, you can do so HERE. It is quite something to accuse your own government and its authorities of being complicit in torture. The Minister who replied, Ivan Lewis, made a valiant effort of denying the accusations, and I dare say he believed the case he was given to read out. But even if only a few of Davis's allegations are true, what does it say about the way MI5 is operating? Is there really any political control exerted?
I am sure that there will be many readers of this blog who will take the view that Ahmed got what was coming to him. He was convicted of terrorist offences, so why should we care about a bit of fingernail pulling? That's a very dangerous path to travel and it goes against the very freedoms we are surely seeking to protect.
So what do you think? Should David Davis have used parliamentary privilege to make these accusations? Is this further evidence of a security service which is out of control? Or is this just a natural by product of a war on terror?