UK complicity in torture

Human rights law bans the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This requires not only that countries do not engage in torture or subject people to ill-treatment, but that they don’t condone or become complicit in torture or ill-treatment.

Yet, over the past few years, increasing evidence has come to light of UK knowledge of, and involvement in, the CIA’s post 9/11 programme of extraordinary rendition and torture and in attempts to use information obtained through the use of torture as evidence in UK courts.

Torture evidence

One aspect of UK complicity in torture is past attempts to use information gained by torture in legal cases. This contravenes the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which explicitly forbids the use of such 'evidence' in legal proceedings.

In December 2005, in a case Liberty intervened in, the House of Lords confirmed that the use of evidence derived from torture was unlawful, regardless of who carried out the torture. It held that the ban on torture and other forms of ill-treatment is absolute and cannot be opted out of. The use of ‘evidence’ that might have been obtained in violation of that ban is therefore unlawful.

UK assistance in or encouragement of torture

In recent years a number of people who have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco and elsewhere have alleged that UK officials knew of their ill-treatment and not only did nothing to prevent it but actively assisted their abusers.

The High Court has found in relation to Mr Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, that UK security services helped US authorities interrogate Mr Mohamed although they knew that he was being detained incommunicado and in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.

There is also evidence that UK officials may have passed on information to their American counterparts which was then used in abducting and subjecting people to extraordinary rendition and in interrogations.

In July 2010 the Government announced an inquiry into the mistreatment of detainees abroad and the extent of UK knowledge. Liberty was disappointed when the terms and protocol of the inquiry were announced as it reserved decisions over what part of the inquiry could be held in the open to the Government’s most senior civil servant and not a judge. We campaigned to get this inquiry out into the open. In January 2012, the Justice Secretary announced that this inquiry would be cancelled to allow for investigations of fresh allegations of UK involvement of rendition in Libya. The Government has now promised, after all police investigations have concluded, to hold an ‘an independent, judge-led inquiry’.

Closed hearings and secret evidence

In recent times extraordinary steps have been taken to keep any information about possible UK complicity in torture secret. The previous government sought to use principles of public interest immunity to restrict access to government documents and to suppress parts of a court judgment in the case of Binyam Mohamed which outlined what the UK knew about torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody.

It has also unsuccessfully attempted to have a ‘closed-material’ procedure before the High Court in a civil claim against the UK Government for involvement in the ill-treatment and unlawful detention by US authorities.

Most recently the ‘closed-material’ procedure has been made available in all civil litigation via the Justice and Security Act. This unprecedented move undermines transparency, accountability and the Rule of Law. Read all about Liberty’s campaign against the proposals here.

Read more about the damage done to open justice by closed courts and secret evidence.