Written evidence submitted by Reprieve
BRITISH INVOLVEMENT IN RENDITIONS AND TORTURE
The British government has been facing increasing
pressure to reveal the extent to which government officers have
been complicit in CIA renditions and torture around the world.
Thus far, the questions have focused upon the use of British airspace
for CIA rendition flights, and possible British knowledge of the
purpose of those flights. The two case studies below show that
this question is but one aspect of possible British complicity
in renditions and torture, and that there are many more questions
that should be asked of our government in this respect.
CASE 1: BISHER
AND JAMIL EL-BANNA
Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna are long term
British residents who, far from being seized on the battlefield,
were "grabbed in the Gambia" by US agents, apparently
with British connivance. They were sent for torture in the "Dark
Prison" in Kabul, and then taken to Guantanamo Bay. There
is developing evidence of (1) British governmental involvement
in the men's seizure and rendition, (2) British assurances that
the men could safely go to the Gambia to set up a mobile peanut-processing
plant, (3) telegrams that indicate direct British involvement
in their seizure once they arrived, (4) the identity of the CIA
plane that was used to render them, and (5) the failure to assist
them despite the fact that they had worked to help British intelligence.
The salient facts are as follows:
Bisher and Jamil were arrested in
the Gambia on 8 November 2002.
They had travelled there with another business
partner named Abdullah to meet Bisher's brother Wahab, and help
him to set up a mobile peanut-processing plant.
British authorities were well aware
of the details of Bisher and Jamil's business trip to the Gambia,
and had assured them they were safe to travel.
In unclassified statements to his lawyer, Jamil
reports that in the last week of October 2002, around 10 days
before he left the UK, two MI5 agents came to his house and told
him that that they knew all about his planned trip. When Jamil
asked them if this was okay, they told him it was, and good luck
with it. A 31 October 2002 memo from MI5 corroborates everything
that Jamil has told US military investigators in this respect.
This should have been provided to Mr El-Banna's attorneys three
years ago in support of his challenge to his confinement. Not
only did the two agents reassure Mr El-Banna that he could travel
safely with his documents, but they offered him a new life in
an Islamic country if he agreed to cooperate with them more than
he already had. He replied that his wife and children were now
settled in the UK, and he would rather remain here.
On the afternoon of 1 November 2002,
Bisher and Jamil went to Gatwick airport. They didn't get very
far: as they were checking in, they were detained on the grounds
of a supposedly suspicious electronic device in Bisher's hand
That day, a telegram sent from MI5 informed
US intelligence that Bisher and Jamil were detained at Gatwick
under the Terrorism Act 2000. Most damaging in the 1 November
2002 telegram to the US was the suggestion that Bisher was an
"Islamic extremist" (for which there is no evidence,
and never has been any), and the fact that "[a] search of
their baggage revealed some form of home-made electronic device.
Preliminary inquiries including X-ray suggest that it may be a
timing device or could possibly be used as some part of a car-based
IED." (1 November 2002 telegram)
Bisher and Jamil were held briefly pending a
hearing. 48 hours later, when the "suspicious device"
was finally examined, it was no "IED"; it was determined
by the police to be a battery charger freely available from Dixons,
Argos, Maplins and any number of other standard electrical stores
in the UK. The police found the electrical item to be "an
innocent device", and at 5:22 pm on 4 November, Bisher and
Jamil were released.
This central conclusion to the episode
of the battery chargerthat there was absolutely nothing
suspicious about itwas communicated to other British authorities
in an internal memo from MI5 to the British Foreign Office. (11
November 2002 telegram) However, there is no evidence to suggest
that this information was ever communicated to the US to correct
the earlier falsehood.
Despite the fact that the item was deemed entirely
"innocent," and Bisher and Jamil were released without
charge, allegations concerning the battery charger appear in their
Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) in Guantanamo Bay as
"evidence" that they are enemy combatants. The British
government has failed to correct its own mistake, which has contributed
to three years' false imprisonment of these men.
Meanwhile Bisher and Jamil returned
home on 4 November 2002, and arranged to fly out to the Gambia
four days later. During this period, unknown to them, a number
of telegrams were sent to the Americans by MI5 about Bisher
and Jamil, saying that they knew Abu Qatada, and that Jamil El-Banna
was Abu Qatada's financier.
In truth, Bisher and Jamil did know Abu Qatada.
However, it was nonsense to say that Jamil was any kind of financier
(indeed the US military has now got it totally muddled, and suggests
equally erroneously that Bisher was helping Abu Qatada with finances).
Furthermore, the US military has extrapolated the mere fact that
Bisher and Jamil were friends with Abu Qatada (unsurprisingly,
as all had previous links with Jordan), to the false assertion
that Bisher and Jamil were somehow in an al Qaida "cell"
In contrast, Bisher had been helping MI5 effect
Abu Qatada's peaceful arrest, with the full knowledge of all the
parties. Jamil El-Banna assisted in this, and when they had arrested
Abu Qatada, the British officers had thanked both men.
On 8 November, the day that Bisher
and Jamil flew to the Gambia, a telegram was sent by MI5 to the
Americans giving the exact spellings of their names at check in
and giving their flight details, noting the delay in takeoff,
and giving the estimated time of arrival. They were immediately
detained upon arrival at Banjul.
Bisher, Jamil, Wahab and Abdullah were immediately
detained in the Gambia, and taken to a house on the outskirts
of Banjul. Some days later, Abdullah managed to telephone his
wife and tell her what had happened. Bisher's brother Numann went
to see his MP, Edward Davey MP, who contacted the Foreign Office.
Over the following days, the Americans were
very much in evidence, but Bisher, Jamil, Wahab and Abdullah never
once saw a British official.
When the men did ask to see British
officials, both the Gambians and the Americans left them in no
doubt that they were being detained at the request of British
When the prisoners demanded to see British consular
officials, both the Gambians and the Americans told them that
the British were the ones who had asked for them to be detained.
Wahab recalls: "I asked once more for a lawyer
and to see the [British] High Commissioner. One of the CIA officers
told me I should not ask for the assistance from the British.
`Who do you think ordered your arrest?' the CIA officer asked.
He implied to me that it had clearly been the British who had
wanted us all detained."
Abdullah says: "The interrogations by the
Americans took place every couple of days. * * * I told them the
entire truth the whole time: we were there to set up a peanut
oil factory and nothing more. Our trip to the Gambia had absolutely
nothing to do with terrorism . . . When I was being interrogated
alone by Mr Lee and one of his colleagues, Mr Lee told me that
the British had "sold you out" to the Americans, indicating
that the British had instigated our arrest."
Jamil El-Banna remembers that when he expressed
anger towards the Americans, his interrogators would repeatedly
"Why are you angry at America? It is
your government, Britain and the MI5, who called the CIA and told
them that you and Bisher [Al-Rawi] were in Gambia and to come
and get you. Britain gave everything to us. Britain sold you out
to the CIA."
Bisher has a similar recollection.
After almost one month in custody, Wahab and
the other British citizen, Abdullah, were allowed to go home to
Meanwhile, on a Sunday early in December, two
or three days after Eid al Fitr (which was on 6 December that
year), Bisher and Jamil were rendered to Kabul. The CIA flight
that took them, via Egypt, has been specifically identified and
They were taken to the Dark Prison
in Kabul, where they spent two weeks under shocking conditions.
They were held in freezing cold, seemingly
underground, pitch-black cells.
They were given only shorts and T-shirt;
Jamil El-Banna did not even have a blanket.
They were held in leg shackles 24 hours
There was no access to a bathroom, only
a drum in the corner of the room.
24 hours a day there was a cacophonous
They were physically abused: punched,
dragged along the floor and kicked.
After the Dark Prison, Jamil and
Bisher were taken to Bagram Airforce Base. In Bagram, they were
imprisoned and badly abused for another two months.
They were beaten, starved, and deprived of sleep.
What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that the only information
the interrogators were interested in was information about Abu
Qatada. Over the years, CIA and military interrogators have repeatedly
attempted to elicit testimony from both men, linking Abu Qatada
to al Qaida. Mr El-Banna has repeatedly refused offers of freedom,
money, and passports in exchange for what would be false testimony.
Jamil El-Banna says that at Bagram:
"I was interrogated by the Americans
almost exclusively about Abu Qatada. They wanted me to say that
Abu Qatada was linked to Al-Qaida, and that he was linked to some
bombing in Jordan. I repeatedly said I knew no such thing. They
offered me $5 million to say this, and gave me two days to think
"Then they came back and told me I could
be a `secret witness,' and told me what they wanted me to say
about Abu Qatada," Jamil continues. "This time they
offered me $10 million and a US passport, and said that if I did
not co-operate, not only would I continue to be held, but my wife
would never get a British passport either. They gave me another
two days and told me to think about it. Before they even left
that time though, I said, if you give me $100 million, I will
not bear false witness against Abu Qatada or anyone else."
Bisher and Jamil were then rendered
to Guantanamo Bay where they remain to this day.
Since being taken into custody, Bisher has seen
many people who have said they were from the CIA. From the beginning
in Guantanamo, Elizabeth, the CIA agent, would tell him, "Don't
think that leaving here will come without a price." She asked
him whether he would work with them, and he said no. They suggested,
"How about working with MI5?"
The British have likewise asked Bisher to continue
to work with them. In the summer of 2003, a British agent came
to see Bisher. He said he knew Bisher, but Bisher did not know
him. This person was apparently with the British detail who had
worked with Bisher previously, but who Bisher had not actually
In January 2004, two British agents calling
themselves "Martin" and "Matthew" came to
see Bisher on two consecutive days. They asked Bisher if he would
work with the MI5 any more when he got out. Bisher said he would,
if what he was asked to do would help bring about peace. They
seemed happy with this response, and said it would take them between
one month and six months to get Bisher home to Britain.
Also in 2004, "Alex" came to visit
Bisher with a pretty female MI5 agent. Bisher has only seen Alex
once in Guantanamo. According to what Bisher was told by Matt
and Alex, "Martin was the ranking individual." (CSRT
at 23). The CIA clearly knew all about Bisher's involvement with
MI5 before Bisher's CSRT process. Yet when it came time to discuss
this at his CSRT, Bisher was unable to find anyone willing to
tell the truth.
Both Bisher and Jamil have been subjected to
highly unsatisfactory "Combatant Status Review Tribunals"
(CSRTs) which purport to determine whether they are "enemy
combatants". As was related at Bisher's CSRT proceeding:
Q. [By the US military] When you mentioned
British Intelligence came here [to Guantanamo], what did they
discuss with you?
A. It was a reunion. We discussed some things
I don't want to go into.
On 24 September 2004, Bisher requested assistance
from various witnesses at his CSRT, including various from MI5:
Alex, Mathew & Martin (last names unknown)
are from the British Intelligence Agency and know [Bisher al Rawi].
They have interviewed him on several occasions. They can testify
[to information that was] . . . known to the British Intelligence
Agency because [Bisher] was working with them.
Bisher was told that the British government
declined to make these witnesses available. The "Tribunal
President" ruled as follows:
At this time, because of the lack of last names,
they are unreasonably available. [sic] I still determine that
they are not relevant at this point.
However, it was explained during the CSRT hearing
that "these three witnesses are from the British Intelligence
Agency and knew him . . . [and] these three agents have interviewed
him on several occasions, and that British Intelligence was already
aware of the information in the summary of evidence [against him]
because he was working with them". At this point, inevitably,
the CSRT officers had to agree that their testimony would be relevant,
and directed that they be located to testify if possible.
According to official American records:
The British Secret Service declined to provide
information regarding the identity of these witnesses, and since
the detainee only possessed their first names, which even he assumed
to be pseudonyms, the witnesses could not be identified. The Tribunal
President was therefore forced to deny the witness request because
the witnesses were not reasonably available. (CSRT Conclusions
at two of five)
In conclusion, the "Tribunal President"
The British government didn't say they didn't
have a relationship with you, they just would not confirm or deny
it. That means I only have your word what happened. (CSRT at
22) (emphasis supplied)
Ultimately, then, although there has been absolutely
no denial by anyone that Bisher "was a sort of intermediary
between Mr Qatada and the British Secret Service (BSS) . . . [t]he
Tribunal found no evidence to corroborate this assertion. . .
." (CSRT Conclusions at three of five)
As a result of the British government's refusal
to go to bat for someone who had been helping them, then, Bisher
al Rawi remains in Guantanamo Bay whereas the UN has recently
foundtorturous conditions continue to be the order of the
The telegrams between the UK and the US provoke
more questions than they answer. They prove beyond doubt that
the UK was passing information to the US to facilitate the detention
of the men in the Gambia. The UK told the US of their precise
arrival time in the Gambia. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(FCO) denies that the UK knew that the men would be rendered.
What did the UK suppose the US was going to do with them on sovereign
Gambia soil? Surely it was obvious that they would be taken elsewhere,
and the UK denials ring false.
Many unanswered questions stand out:
1. It seems clear that the two men were
seized solely because of the misinformation provided to the US
by the Britishis there any other explanation?
2. What role did the British government
really play in the rendition?
3. Why has British intelligence not corrected
the misinformation provided to the US concerning the battery charger
that was misidentified as an IED?
4. Was it British intelligence that fed
the false information to the US that Mr. Al-Rawi and Mr. El-Banna
were linked to some "al Qaida cell" in London?
5. Why did the British government refuse
to "confirm or deny" for the US that Bisher Al-Rawi
had indeed been helping British intelligence as he honestly told
6. What information did the British give
to the US by telephone, telegram or otherwise?
7. When will Bisher Al-Rawi be home, and
reunited with this family?
8. Why will the British government not intervene
on behalf of Jamil El-Banna, whose wife and five small British
children have been without him for three years?
9. When will the British government announce
an official inquiry with the power to compel the attendance of
witnesses to get to the bottom of these questions?
CASE 2: BINYAM
Binyam Mohamed Al-Habashi is a British resident
in Guantanamo Bay. Seized for a passport violation in Karachi,
Pakistan on 10 April 2002, Binyam was handed over to the Americans
who rendered him to Morocco. In Morocco, Binyam suffered the worst
torture that we know of to date, and some of which he is still
unable to talk about. He eventually confessed under torture to
being part of a "dirty bomb plot" involving Jose Padilla
and a number of other alleged high-level al-Qaida operatives.
Thereafter Binyam was rendered to the Dark Prison
and Bagram Airforce Base, Afghanistan, and finally to Guantanamo
Bay. In Guantanamo, Binyam faces a Military Commission commencing
on 6 April 2006the kind of tribunal characterised by Lord
Steyn as a "kangaroo court". Indeed, Guantanamo Military
Commissions have been universally derided by human rights organisations
and were noted by the British government to fall so far below
fair trial standards as to be unacceptable for our own citizens.
"Evidence" obtained from
Binyam under torture in Morocco is likely to be used against him.
The only evidence that has been revealed against
Binyam are statements attributed to him, that were exacted as
part of the torture process. He denies that any of this is true.
There is growing evidence that British
officers were aware Binyam was to be rendered to Morocco, and
that the British supplied information to his torturers.
The true extent of British involvement in Binyam
Mohamed Al-Habashi's rendition and torture is as yet an unanswered
question. The British government justifies its refusal to admit
any diplomatic responsibility to Binyam by saying that because
Binyam is a British resident, rather than a citizen, the British
government is not obliged to make representations on his behalf.
This is a gloss of the true facts of British involvement in his
case, and our added responsibility to help Binyam come home to
Binyam's troubles began when he was seized by
the Pakistanis at Karachi Airport in April 2002.
Binyam was taken first to Landi Prison
and then to an interrogation unit in Karachi.
He was taken to the ICI unit
where he was interrogated there by four FBI personnel. They seemed
to believe that he was some kind of top al-Quaida operative. This
was despite the facts that it was less than six months since Binyam
had converted to Islam, and he could barely speak Arabic.
At the ICI unit, Binyam was questioned
by two MI6 officers who made it clear that they knew he was slated
In Binyam's own words:
"They gave me a cup of tea with a lot
of sugar in it. I initially only took one. `No, you need a lot
more. Where you're going, you need a lot of sugar.' I didn't know
exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor
country in Arabia." One of them did tell me I was going to
get tortured by the Arabs."
Binyam was then taken to Islamabad
where he was turned over to the Americans for rendition to Morocco.
The US soldiers were dressed in black, with
masks, and what looked like Timberland boots. They stripped Binyam
naked, took photos, put fingers up his anus, and dressed him in
a tracksuit. He was shackled, with earphones, blind-folded, and
put into a US plane. He was tied to the seat for the eight to
10 hours of the journey.
In Morocco, Binyam was tortured,
for 18 months, by a team of eight people.
He has suffered the worst torture that has come
to light to date in the War on Terror, some of which, almost four
years on, he is still unable to speak about. What he is able to
Around once a month, for 18 months,
Binyam had his penis slashed with a razor-blade.
"One of them took my penis in his hand
and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for
maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying,
trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming they
must have done this 20 or 30 times for maybe two hours. There
was blood all over they cut all over my private parts. One of
them said, it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only
He was frequently cuffed, with earphones
blaring loud music put on his head.
"I could not take the headphones off as
I was cuffed. I had to sleep with the music on and even pray with
Twice, for a month each, he was taken
to a freezing cold, mouldy room that smelled of urine because
there were holes in the toilet so it leaked out into the room.
Drugs were put in his food and given
to him intravenously, against his will:
"Then they came in again, and strapped me
to a mattress. They put an IV in my arm. First one, then a second.
There was some kind of yellow liquid. This I think must have been
heroin, though I've never tried it, so I don't know for sure.
I was out of this world. I didn't exist. They alternated. They'd
do a plain IV, then the heroin IV, then the plain one, then the
heroin one. My body started reacting. I started shivering this
went on for maybe 10 or 14 days, but I lost track of time I'd
go nuts, shaking, paranoid."
When it was prayer time, the torturers
would play pornographic films at high volume.
Between the torture sessions, Binyam would be
taken for weekly interrogation where, he says:
"They would tell me what to say. They
said if you tell this story as we read it, you will just go to
court as a witness and all this torture will stop. I could not
take any more of this torture, and I eventually repeated what
was read out to me. They told me to say that I had been with Bin
Laden five or six times. Of course that was false. They told me
to say that I had told Bin Laden about places that should be attacked.
Of course, that was false too. They told me to say that I had
sat with UBL's (Usama Bin Laden) top people. That was a lie too.
There were about 25 of them. They told me all their names. They
told me that I must plead guilty. I'd have to say I was an Al-Qaida
operations man, an ideas man. I kept insisting that I had only
been in Afghanistan a short while.`We don't care,' was all they'd
Of course, the proponents of torture believe
that having prior information is critical to an effective torture
strategy, and it is this aspect of the Moroccan routine that strongly
suggests the British government were complicit in some of the
abuse that took place against Binyam.
Various questions were asked in Morocco showing
such specific knowledge that sadly it is hard to imagine a source
other than the British. If this is correct, this would have required
that the UK did an investigation that would have been passed along
to the Moroccans.
Binyam had been travelling on a passport
that belonged to a friend of his. In order to protect his friend,
Binyam had told the Americans that he (Binyam) had stolen the
passport. The Moroccans told Binyam how he had really acquired
the passport, saying that Binyam's friend had told the British,
who had relayed it on to the Moroccans, that he had given it to
The Moroccans asked him questions
about his old kick-boxing trainer in North Kensington, London,
that could only have come from the British.
They told Binyam what college he
had studied at, what grades he achieved, and various information
that could only have come from an ex-girlfriend in London.
They knew Binyam's former address
in North Kensington.
Binyam was questioned about his links
"The interrogator told me that we have been
working with the British, and we have photos of people given to
us by MI5. "Do you know these? I realised that the British
were sending questions to the Moroccans to say I was disappointed
at that moment is an understatement."
Later, Binyam was shown some pictures,
all of British people. His torturers told him, "This is the
Eventually, at the end of January 2004, Binyam
was taken to Afghanistan. There were five US soldiers in black
and grey, who cut off Binyam's clothes. A white female Military
Personnel (MP) took pictures. When she saw the injuries on his
penis, she gasped, saying to her companions, "Oh my God,
look at that". Later in Afghanistan, more pictures were
taken. Someone explained that the photos were "to show
Washington it's healing."
In Afghanistan, Binyam was taken
to the notorious Dark Prison in Kabul, he was there for around
He was chained to the floor with little room
for manoeuvre, wearing only shorts and a top, in the pitch black
with non-stop blaring music. He had a bucket to use as a toilet,
but it was hard to use in the dark, so everything got on his blanket,
which was the only one he had. At the Dark Prison,
"interrogation was right from the start,
and went on until the day I left there. The CIA worked on people,
including me, day and night for the months before I left. Plenty
lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against
the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
In late May 2004, Binyam Mohamed
Al-Habashi was transferred to Bagram Airforce Base. On 19 September
2004 he was rendered to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains to date.
Many unanswered questions stand out:
1. Did the British government play any role
in Mr Mohamed's seizure?
2. What information did the British give
to the Americans whilst Mr Mohamed was being held in Pakistan
that may have contributed to his rendition?
3. What information did the British give
to the Americans and the Moroccans that contributed to his torture?
4. If British officers knew that Mr Mohamed
was to be rendered to Morocco, how did they know this, and why
did they not do anything to help him?
5. Did the British receive any information
from the Moroccans obtained from Mr Mohamed whilst he was in Morocco?
6. What information have the British received
that has been obtained from Mr Mohamed whilst he was being abused
in US (or Moroccan) custody?
7. Given the requirement of the Convention
Against Torture, why has Mr Mohamed not been given any assistance
by the British in Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan or Guantanamo
8. Has the British government ever sought
assurances from the Pakistanis, Moroccans or Americans regarding
the treatment of Mr Mohamed whilst in their custody?
9. Why will the British government not intervene
on behalf of Mr Mohamed, who faces trial by Military Commission
in a process that has been universally condemned, on charges that
were dropped against Jose Padilla because they couldn't stand
up in the regular US court system?
10. When will the Government announce an
official inquiry with the power to compel the attendance of witnesses
to get to the bottom of these questions?
4 Unless otherwise indicated, all italicised text
in reference to Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna is taken from
unclassified statements made to their lawyer Clive Stafford Smith
whilst in Guantanamo Bay. Back
The ICI is the Pakistani Security Service. Back
Unless otherwise indicated, all italicised text in reference
to Binyam Mohamed Al-Habashi is taken from unclassified statements
made to their lawyer Clive Stafford Smith whilst in Guantanamo