A committee of MPs is to consider allegations tomorrow that British security services colluded in the torture of terrorism suspects.
The claims, which were first reported in the Guardian last year, relate to a number of suspects arrested in Pakistan at the request of British authorities between 2003 and 2007. The men say they were repeatedly tortured by agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), before being questioned by MI5.
Yesterday Andrew Dismore, chair of the joint committee on human rights, said: “The fact that we are holding this hearing underlines the seriousness of these allegations.”
The men, or their legal representatives, have detailed accounts of their alleged ordeal at the hands of the ISI. Some appeared to have been taken to the same secret interrogation centre in Rawalpindi, where they say they were repeatedly tortured by ISI agents before being questioned by British security services.
In an editorial last year the Guardian, which will give evidence to the committee, described the allegations as being “at the heart of the difficulties which terrorism poses for democracies”. It also said that an investigation by the bodies responsible for the oversight of the country’s intelligence agencies is “the least a democracy expects”.
The committee will also hear from the campaign group Human Rights Watch. Brad Adams, the charity’s Asia director, said: “What is most disturbing about these accounts is that the British government knew full well the techniques the ISI and Pakistani law enforcement agencies use in interrogations, particularly in terror investigations.”
One of the alleged victims, Rangzieb Ahmed, from Manchester, says that in 2006 he was beaten, whipped, deprived of sleep and had three fingernails extracted by ISI agents at the Rawalpindi centre before being interrogated by two MI5 officers. In December a jury at Manchester crown court convicted Ahmed of being a member of al-Qaida and of directing a terrorist organisation. But it was not told that three fingernails of his left hand had been removed.
Ahmed, 33, says the nails were removed slowly with a pair of pliers over three consecutive days at a secret ISI prison, and alleged that on the fourth day he was hooded and bound and taken to a place where he was questioned by two MI5 officers. Before Ahmed’s trial began, the judge ruled that he did not believe the fingernails were taken out before the meeting with MI5. Part of the judges ruling is being kept secret.
A second man, from Luton, Bedfordshire, alleges that he was whipped, suspended by his wrists and beaten, and threatened with an electric drill, possibly at the same torture centre. His interrogation was coordinated with the questioning of several associates at Paddington Green police station, west London, and the questioning of a further suspect in Canada.
Another man, who is accused of being an al-Qaida terrorist from the West Midlands, claimed he was tortured after being detained in Pakistan during a British-led counter-terrorism investigation. He says that for several months the ISI kept him in a pitch-black cell not much bigger than a coffin, and that he was brought out to be beaten, whipped and subjected to electric shocks. On one occasion, he alleges, he was kept hooded and interrogated by people speaking English, with British and American accents.
The hearing is part of the JCHR’s ongoing inquiry into the UN charter against torture. If the MPs decide the issues need further investigation they can hold further hearings, calling more witnesses and may produce a written report.