David Davis accuses UK government of “outsourcing” torture of terror suspects

July 8, 2009 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

A senior Tory MP has launched a stinging attack on the government’s alleged involvement in the torture of suspected terrorists.

David Davis, a former Shadow Home Secretary, said in an adjounment debate yesterday:

“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.”

Mr David raised the case of Rangzieb Ahmed.

“I should say that the individual whose case I am going to describe is not someone for whom I have any natural sympathy,” he said.

“He is a convicted—indeed, self-confessed—terrorist. So what I am talking about today is just as much about defending our own civilised standards as it is about deploring what was done to this man in the name of defending our country.

“Rangzieb Ahmed should have been arrested by the UK in 2006, but he was not. The authorities knew that he intended to travel to Pakistan, so they should have prevented that; instead, they suggested that the ISI arrest him (Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence agency).

“They knew that he would be tortured, and they arranged to construct a list of questions and supply it to the ISI.

“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.”

Mr Davis asked the minister responding to the debate to look at the in camera court records and the records of the police and intelligence agencies “so that he can confirm for his own satisfaction that my account of the handling of Rangzieb Ahmed pre-trial is correct.”

He also asked for the current guidelines governing the agencies handling the suspected torture be published.

“I believe, but cannot be certain to an evidential level, that the judge in the court case intimated that disciplinary action should be considered within the intelligence agencies. Was this done? If not, why not?

“Finally, can the Minister now announce a proper judicial inquiry into the allegations of UK complicity in torture, since it is now clear that there is not just circumstantial evidence but hard evidence in government records for Ministers to read, if they had but eyes to see?”

Mr Davis accused the government of “fighting tooth and nail to use state secrecy to cover up crimes and political embarrassments to protect those who are probably the real villains in the piece—those who approved these policies in the first place.”

“The battle against terrorism is not just a fight for life; it is a battle of ideas and ideals,” he said.

“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. I hope the Minister will today help me in ensuring that we find out what has gone wrong so we can return to defending those values once again.”

For the government Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accused Mr Davis of “repeating unsubstantiated accusations as fact.”

“The Government’s policy is that torture is an abhorrent crime and we are fundamentally opposed to it,” he said.

“That principle guides all of the Government’s work, including that of the intelligence agencies and armed forces.”

Mr Lewis said Mr Ahmed has been convicted of terrorism offences and “no evidence was found to substantiate the claims of UK involvement in mistreatment.”

The minister said as Mr Ahmed has an outstanding application for leave to appeal, which, as an active proceeding in a UK court, cannot be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

“Therefore, Mr. Ahmed’s case should not be discussed further at present. I am very constrained in my capacity to respond directly to the accusations he makes. However, I will attempt to do justice to the general points that he has alluded to both in the past and in this debate.”

Mr Lewis said the UK government has taken “a proactive approach to the work internationally against torture.”

“If that is the case, how is that consistent with the right hon. Gentleman’s accusation that the UK Government have colluded in the use of torture? I say with respect to him that the two do not coincide, and that this is not a consistent statement of the facts.”

“I do not know the right hon. Gentleman, but having listened to his appearance on “Desert Island Discs” I regard him as an authentic, genuine and straight Member of this House,” Mr Lewis said.

“I put it to him that had he become Home Secretary, those are the kinds of judgments that he would have had to make on a daily basis.

“That is why he more than anyone should not repeat accusations with no substantive evidence to support them. We have a series of allegations, some of which have been made by people who have been convicted, and others made by people who, as far as I know, have not been convicted in any court.

“We have no substantive, clear, unequivocal evidence to support the right hon. Gentleman’s contention that the British Government or agents acting on their behalf have colluded with acts of torture.

The right hon. Gentleman must demonstrate how he can be so sure that the evidence is so overwhelming and so beyond all reasonable doubt that he—as a highly respected and responsible parliamentarian—can come repeatedly to this House and use privilege to repeat those accusations.”

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