Torture inquiry

The Government must set up an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in overseas torture to bring the perpetrators to justice and make sure it never happens again.


It is illegal for any State to carry out or take part in torture, no matter the circumstances – but there is strong evidence the UK was involved in torture after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Following the atrocities, the US started a campaign of kidnap, torture and detention without charge or trial.

From 2002, UK intelligence and security agencies participated in an estimated 2,000-3,000 detainee interviews conducted by US authorities in locations including Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

But the Government has ruled out setting up an independent inquiry into the UK’s role in torture overseas.


The prohibition on torture and ill-treatment in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is one of the few absolute rights. This means a State can never torture someone or be complicit in torture or ill-treatment carried out by others, regardless of the circumstances.

And under Article 3 ECHR, States must carry out an ‘effective’ investigation into complaints of violations of the prohibition – but the Government has ignored this obligation.

It’s long been known that the UK got its hands dirty following the 9/11 attacks, but the full extent of our country’s involvement remains unknown.

In June 2018, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published a comprehensive report on detainee mistreatment and intelligence sharing between 2001 and 2010.

It revealed:

  • At least 166 instances in which UK personnel either directly witnessed or had credible information suggesting torture and abuse carried out by US personnel.
  • 232 cases where UK personnel continued to ask questions of or provide intelligence regarding a US-held detainee after they knew or suspected that person had been mistreated.
  • 192 cases where UK agents accepted intelligence information obtained by the US from detainees who they knew or should have suspected had been tortured or abused.
  • Many dozens of instances in which the UK provided intelligence or financial support to US efforts to seize people and transport them to a place where there was a real risk of torture and degrading treatment.

But the process was hamstrung. The Committee was denied access to critical evidence and key witnesses, and intelligence officials were instructed not to provide evidence on specific cases.

The ISC described the Government’s attempts to block the investigation as “regrettable”.

Transparency and accountability are crucial both to getting justice for the victims of this horrifying abuse and to ensure the UK faces up to what it did and learns vital lessons.


We’re calling for a full, independent, judge-led inquiry to unearth the full story, bring the perpetrators to justice and make sure it never happens again.

Any proposed inquiry must examine all relevant evidence and cases, including those which are yet to be properly examined, and ensure meaningful involvement of torture survivors.

There can be no compromise when it comes to torture. Only by dragging this shameful episode out of the shadows and into the light will the UK be able to move forward – and make sure crucial lessons are learned.

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