UK tolerated 'inexcusable' treatment of terror detainees: Parliamentary report

Activists protest the Guantanamo Bay detention camp during a rally in Lafayette Square outside the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan 11, 2018.
Activists protest the Guantanamo Bay detention camp during a rally in Lafayette Square outside the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Britain tolerated the "inexcusable" mistreatment of detainees by US authorities during the war on terror and took part in planning extraordinary rendition operations, according to a British parliamentary report published on Thursday (June 28).

"In our view, the UK tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable," according to the report by lawmakers from Parliament's intelligence and security committee.

It said British officials became aware of mistreatment of US-held prisoners soon after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

"There are at least 38 cases in 2002 alone of (British) officers witnessing or hearing about mistreatment," the report said.

"That the US, and others, were mistreating detainees is beyond doubt, as is the fact that (British) agencies... were aware of this at an early point."

"The same is true of rendition: there was no attempt to identify the risks involved and formulate the UK's response," it added.

MPs also found three cases in which Britain's spy agencies MI6 and MI5 "made, or offered to make, a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation".

"Given the countries concerned, these can be described as 'extraordinary renditions' due to the real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," it said.

There were 28 cases in which British security services "planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others" and a further 22 cases in which they "provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place", the report noted.

It added there was no evidence of rendition flights crossing British airspace, but two detainees transited through Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean with a US base.

The probe found that British security services took part in 2,000 to 3,000 interviews of US-held detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay following the 2001 attacks.

The lawmakers identified no evidence of British officers directly taking part in mistreatment, but said that in two cases they "were party to mistreatment administered by others".

Britain last month made an unprecedented admission of culpability and apologised for contributing to the mistreatment of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former Libyan Islamist fighter.

Belhaj was kidnapped in Thailand in 2004 and transferred to Libya, where he was tortured by Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Belhaj became Tripoli's military commander after Gaddafi was ousted in a 2011 revolution.

Papers found after Gaddafi's ouster showed the British official had told the Libyan government that it was "the least the UK could do" to help capture Belhaj.