MP demands inquiry into ‘British interrogation of detainees in Ethiopia’ – Jenny Percival and agencies(guardian.co.uk)
BBC’s Radio 4 broadcasts claims that detainees in Ethiopia had been illegally transported from Somalia.
An MP today called for a parliamentary inquiry into claims that British agents were involved in the interrogation of detainees in Ethiopia who had been illegally transported from neighbouring Somalia.
The BBC reported that at least 10 men were held for around 18 months, during which time they claimed they were denied access to lawyers and mistreated, including by being shackled and having their hands cuffed behind their backs for such long periods it caused intense pain.
The men were allegedly removed from Somalia by extraordinary rendition – the illegal transfer of prisoners from one state to another, for interrogation and without a formal extradition process.
Although there was no allegation that British officials were involved in any mistreatment of detainees, the BBC said it had spoken to five former prisoners who claimed British agents took part in their interrogation, seeking information about UK citizens who had visited Somalia.
The men claimed that their questioning was conducted by Ethiopians, directed by American agents.
The lawless east African state of Somalia is viewed by intelligence agencies as a hotbed of Islamist radicalism and a haven for al-Qaida militants.
BBC Radio 4′s Today programme broadcast an interview with a Kenyan man called Salim Awadh, who was released along with seven other fellow-countrymen last week from detention in Addis Ababa.
The men had been held since January 2007, when Ethiopian troops took control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, ousting the Union of Islamic Courts, an Islamist movement which had controlled much of southern Somalia for the previous six months.
Awadh said: “A week after we arrived, we were interrogated by whites – Americans, British, MI5, MI6, FBI. I was taken away and placed in isolation for two months. My hands and legs were shackled. The interrogations went on for five months.
“During the interrogation, when I complained to the Americans ‘Where are my human rights? Where is the democracy you have been talking about?’, they said ‘There is no democracy here, there are no human rights here’ and the British were present at this time.”
The chairman of the House of Commons all-party group on extraordinary rendition, the Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, said the allegations should be investigated by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.
Tyrie told Today: “If British officials have been involved in interrogating people who have been rendered illegally outside any due process of law, then there is a prima facie case for saying they have broken the law – British law – and that would need to be investigated.”
Human rights lawyer Louise Christian said: “If the British security services know or ought to have known that the person was being tortured, that they were being held incommunicado without a lawyer and they tried to take advantage of that by questioning the person, then the British government themselves would be in breach of international law and that should be investigated by the United Nations.”
The Foreign Office said it was looking into the BBC report.
A spokeswoman pointed out that an intelligence and security committee report published in July 2007 found “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any ‘extraordinary rendition’ operations”.
The report dealt largely with allegations surrounding CIA “ghost flights” and the transfer of prisoners to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. It made no reference to the detention of individuals in Somalia and their transfer to Ethiopian jails.
In February, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, was forced to admit that two US extraordinary rendition flights landed on UK territory in 2002. In both cases US planes refuelled on the UK dependent territory of Diego Garcia.
In a Commons statement, Miliband said he was “very sorry” to say that previous denials made in “good faith” were wrong.