Britain sued for ‘complicity’ in torture

By Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald

One of the world’s leading human rights lawyers is to sue Britain for its ‘complicity’ in the torture of terror suspects who have never been convicted of a crime. The news comes as a former leading British diplomat has accused the government of basing its anti-terror policies on information from torture victims that was ‘bollocks’.

And the former American spy chief who devised a controversial scheme for snatching terror suspects and imprisoning them has criticised its use as a means of delivering them to US-friendly countries for torture.

The developments all focus on ‘extraordinary rendition flights’, which take terror suspects abducted by the US from all over the world to countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Uzbekistan, where they are tortured.

In one case, Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi, a British resident from Ethiopia, was captured in Pakistan. He claims he was visited in prison by two MI6 officers after he was tortured by Pakistani interrogators, who told him that he was going to be sent to an undisclosed Arab nation for more torture.

Later, Habashi was flown to Morocco on one of the CIA’s fleet of Gulfstream jets used in renditions. There he says he was subjected to appalling abuse, the worst of which involved his interrogators cutting his private parts with a scalpel.

While in Morocco, he claims his torturers made it clear that they were working with British intelligence as part of his interrogation. The British supplied information to the Moroccan interrogators which was used to question Habashi.

Habashi’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, OBE, who is acclaimed in both the USA and UK for his human rights work, is now to sue Britain for breaching the Convention on Torture. Stafford Smith said: ‘The UK was complicit in this process. What happened to Benyam was morally wrong and stupid. People will say anything when you take a razor blade to their genitals.’

Habashi is now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. During his interrogation he was forced to admit to plotting to ‘dirty bomb’ the USA, and to being al-Qaeda’s ‘ideas man’. Before his arrest, he was a teenager in London with a drug problem who couldn’t even speak Arabic. Stafford Smith added: ‘The US government used false information, that stemmed from the point of a razor blade, to scare the whole world.’

Habashi’s sister, Zuhra, who lives in Washington DC said: ‘I didn’t expect this of the UK government. Britain isn’t a third-world nation. It is shocking. It shows that there is no respect for human rights anywhere in the world. Britain assisted with my brother’s torture. They knew what was happening.’

The UK allows British airports to be used for refuelling by the CIA’s fleet of planes, which ferry captives around the globe. Glasgow and Prestwick airports are the two most favoured CIA stop-overs.

Human rights organisations say extraordinary renditions breach just about every piece of international legislation designed to protect human rights.