Saturday, 13 February 2010

Has the UK been complicit in either the torture or mistreatment of prisoners?

The media has been replete with articles about the Court of Appeal's judgment in R (Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2010] EWCA Civ 65.  We have also heard how efforts were made to persuade Lord Neuberger MR that his draft judgment (shown to the parties) contained paragraphs with which the Secretary of State took issue - see Reprieve.

Just where does the truth lie?  Has the UK been complicit in either torture or cruel or degrading treatment of prisoners?  The UK has internationally binding obligations under theUnited Nations Convention against Torture or other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984.

[1] Are we complying fully with the letter and spirit of our obligations?

[2] Have we now lost the moral high ground in the fight against terrorism?

My answer to [1] would still be a cautious "maybe" but there is mounting evidence to suggest that we are not.

My answer to [2] would be "not yet" (as demonstrated by the Court of Appeal's actions in Mohamed) but there seems to be a danger that we might very soon lose the authority of having "right on our side."

The British goverment claims that it takes its obligations seriously and that it adheres to the law - see Foreign and Commonwealth Office 12th February 2010.

Here are some links to materials which support the mounting concerns:

Abu Ghraib - alleged British involvement in mistreatment of prisoners

Cruel Britannia - a Human Rights Watch report

Extraordinary Rendition - Liberty

Addendum Monday 15th February 2010:

It appears that some MPs are pressing for changes to made to the Intelligence and Security Committee - see "How MI5 kept watchdog in the dark."  See also "The men committee could have asked about MI5 and torture."

Interestingly, an Inquiry has been on going into the case of Baha Mousa - Guardian 15th February. and see Baha Mousa Inquiry.  This inquiry is being held under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005.  The Act has been severely criticised because of the controls which it gives to Ministers over various aspects of the inquiry.  Baha Mousa was a receptionist at a hotel in Basra, Iraq and was working there on 14th September 2003 when British troops entered the hotel.  He was seized, detained and taken to a British military base.  At the base he was brutally beaten by British troops and died of the injuries he received.  A Court-Martial of 7 soldiers was held in 2007.  One, a corporal, pleaded guilty to ill-treatment of Mousa but the other defendants either had the charges against them dropped or were acquitted.    In Secretary of State for Defence v Al-Skeini and others [2007] UKHL 26 the House of Lords held that the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights extended to places such as the military base which was under British control.  See also Diane Abbot MP's website for a view of this case.

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