Human Rights Groups Urge UK to Own Up to 'Glaringly Obvious' Involvement in CIA Torture

MI6 headquarters
A motorboat passes by the MI6 building in London August 25, 2010. Toby Melville/Reuters

Human rights charities including Amnesty, Reprieve and Human Rights Watch have called for the UK government to take accountability for its involvement and complicity in the CIA's torture programme.

A long-awaited report in CIA torture by a U.S. Senate committee was published on Tuesday and detailed many of the brutal techniques employed by the organisation in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It also implicated 54 other countries who assisted the CIA's programme, 25 of which were in Europe.

The report itself is heavily redacted - there are no direct references to either of the UK's intelligence agencies MI5 or MI6 in the 499-page summary. There is also no mention of Diego Garcia, a UK-owned island in the central Indian Ocean currently leased to the US which has reportedly been a transfer point for CIA rendition flights in which prisoners were transferred to facilities where torture took place.

Earlier this year William Hague revealed in a letter to Reprieve that the UK had discussed the report with the US. Hague wrote: "We have made representations to seek assurances that ordinary procedures for clearance of UK material will be followed in the event that UK material provide[d] to the Senate committee were to be disclosed."

This admission, combined with the revelation from a Freedom of Information request that the UK ambassador to the US met with members of the Senate committee who were involved in the report 21 times between 2012 and 2014, had led to concerns that the UK government lobbied the Senate in order to conceal the extent of the UK's complicity.

Reprieve's head of communications, Donald Campbell said: "The Senate's report does important work revealing the horror of the CIA torture programme, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a fraction of the victims of CIA renditions are named. Among those who are absent from the public version of the report are two families who were 'rendered' by MI6 and the CIA to Gaddafi's Libya in 2004."

He continued: "The UK government still has serious questions to answer over the role it played in their ordeal – it must be remembered that among the victims of these operations were four children aged 12 and under, and a heavily-pregnant woman. The government also needs to come clean over whether it lobbied the Senate committee to stop them publishing details of this shameful incident."

Julia Hall, an expert on counter-terrorism and human rights who works for Amnesty International highlighted that "although many of us have been working and researching these things for years, we are still absolutely shocked by what's in the report".

"It's glaringly obvious that the UK are missing from it, especially as they're such a key ally. The other countries, though not named, implicated are colour coded and it's fairly easy to work out who's who - Green for Thailand, blue for Poland etc - but it's staggering that the UK escaped any mention at all. My suspicion is this is the result of some very effective lobbying from the UK for the US to remain absent from the report."

"The report is so shocking you would understand why they wouldn't want to be included and seen as one of the most notorious partners in crime - but it's completely incredible they are not included in that group," she continued. "If I were the other governments - Poland, Italy, Lithuania - I'd be rather unnerved by idea that they weren't important enough and were thrown to the dogs. The UK must have been done some very aggressive lobbying to avoid mention."

Clive Baldwin a senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch also commented on the UK government's lobbying tactics and the omission of the country from the report: "Britain's involvement in this torture is still to be investigated. It's way past the time for the UK government and its predecessor to come clean. David Cameron has gone back on his promise to investigate the government's complicity."

"People should be prosecuted. If there's evidence of someone who were complicit in torture - be that participating and facilitating or aiding and abetting it, and anyone who ordered it on a ministerial level. The should all be investigated by an independent body and prosecuted," he said.

The Green Party's international spokesperson Tony Clarke emphasized the political party's stance on the issue: "We back the UN Convention against torture. It is not justifiable to say you were 'simply following the rules' and 'acting under authority'. Anyone who has authorised or carried out torture must be held to account. If the US won't step up then under the Criminal Justice Bill 1988 the UK should seek to bring the perpetrators to account."

"Global pressure needs to be put on President Obama to take action, and Britain must also investigate its own role in the proceedings, to this end we would like to see an independent investigation brought against ministers and government officials to ascertain how much knowledge of these brutal events ministers and officials had. It is now vital that the UK government comes clean and is clear about their involvement now rather than it being revealed by others."

Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who is the chairman and founder of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, has issued a statement, also calling for the UK government to open an investigation.

"The publication of this report is an achievement for democracy," the statement reads. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It makes the UK's failure to adequately investigate allegations of its own facilitation of rendition – that is, kidnapping suspects and taking them to places where they may be maltreated or tortured – all the more unacceptable. If one of the great Anglo-Saxon democracies can be so open, why can't another?"