Reprieve is considering legal action after details emerged of the extent of the UK’s role in US torture programme.
Newly declassified cables highlight the need for the United Kingdom to conduct an inquiry into alleged instances of torture committed by the CIA, according to UK-based rights group Reprieve.
The cables, first published by The Intercept, detail the “enhanced interrogation” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and Abu Zabayda, the alleged senior lieutenant to Osama Bin Laden, the deceased former head of Al Qaeda.
The two men were reportedly held in a secret CIA prison after their respective captures in Pakistan in 2002.
“Rule out nothing whatsoever that you believe may be effective,” reads one cable to Zubaydah’s interrogators, according to Reprieve, the rights group calling for an inquiry. “Rather, come on back and we will get you the approvals.”
There, they were subject to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, a euphemism for torture, such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and being placed in “stress positions”, which were previously considered illegal.
Zabayda was reportedly waterboarded 83 times in August 2002 alone. Videotapes of his torture were destroyed in 2005, at the behest of Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.
The CIA has employed ‘black sites’, or secret prisons, to detain and torture those apprehended in the US ‘War on Terror’ since 2001.
These sites are reportedly found across the planet, on every continent except South America.
The European Court of Human Rights rejected in 2014 an appeal from Warsaw to reconsider a ruling which affirmed Poland hosted a secret CIA prison where Zabaydah was tortured. The ruling also awarded Zabaydah and another man imprisoned there roughly $262,660.
According to Reprieve, the UK’s intelligence services were aware of the torture.
“Last year, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) established that MI6 had ‘direct awareness of extreme mistreatment and possibly torture’ of Zubaydah,” Reprieve said.
Although British intelligence knew of the methods used in the interrogation of the alleged terrorists, Reprieve alleges: “[It] continued to send the CIA questions to be used in interrogations without seeking any assurances regarding Zubaydah’s treatment in detention.”
The ISC made clear that restrictions on its investigations imposed by the government meant its report could only ever be seen as “provisional”.
The UK government announced in July, the same month that Boris Johnson became prime minister, that it would renege on commitments to hold an inquiry into UK involvement in rendition and torture.
These commitments were made by former prime minister David Cameron, who resigned in 2016 following the Brexit referendum which saw the UK vote to leave the EU.
“Reprieve is exploring legal action to challenge the decision. At the same time, the government also presented an updated version of Whitehall’s Consolidated Guidance – the so-called ‘torture policy’ – that fails to expressly prohibit Ministers from authorising action carrying a real risk of torture,” the group said.
Furthermore, Metropolitan Police detectives are currently investigating how much MI5 and MI6 officers knew and were involved in the interrogation of Zabaydah, The Guardian reported in March.
Allegations of British involvement have long followed British authorities. These allegations heightened in 2014, when a heavily-redacted CIA report was released that detailed the “torture” of those detained after the World Trade Center attacks.
Reports suggested British authorities repeatedly met with US counterparts working on the report in the lead-up to its release, causing some to allege the redactions covered British involvement.
British authorities have denied the allegations.
Admiral Lord West, who was security minister under the last Labour government, told the BBC in 2014: "Would we - as we dug around and had some huge inquiry - find that one agent or maybe two agents were once in a room when somebody was waterboarded? Possibly we might.
"Is it worth a big judicial inquiry? I think it's worth the ISC doing it."
The ISC did not respond to a request for comment before publication.
“With each new revelation of torture carried out by CIA officers, the need for an inquiry into British complicity in these abuses becomes more plain”, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said in a statement delivered to TRT World.
“If MI5 and MI6 officers knew what Abu Zubaydah was being subjected to, but kept on supplying questions, how much other torture did they turn a blind eye to? Only a thorough investigation of this dark period can bring it to an end, and signal that Britain is a country that absolutely and unambiguously prohibits torture.”