Exclusive : British authorities pressed for information while men were held at secret interrogation centre where inmates are known to have died under torture, Guardian investigation reveals
Ian Cobain, and Fariha Karim in Dhaka/Guardian UK
January 17, 2011
UK authorities passed information about British nationals to notorious Bangladeshi intelligence agencies and police units, then pressed for information while the men were being held at a secret interrogation centre where inmates are known to have died under torture.
A Guardian investigation into counter-terrorism co-operation between the UK and Bangladesh has revealed a detailed picture of the last Labour government’s reliance on overseas intelligence agencies that were known to use torture.
Meetings and exchanges of information took place between British and Bangladeshi officials in an effort to protect the UK from attacks that might be fomented in Bangladesh, according to sources in both countries.
The likelihood that a number of suspects would be tortured as a result of the meetings went unmentioned, according to the sources. Subsequently, more than a dozen men of dual British-Bangladeshi nationality were placed under investigation, and at least some suffered horrific abuse from the Bangladeshi authorities.
At one point Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, flew to Dhaka for face-to-face meetings with senior officials from one agency, the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), whose use of torture had been the subject of a detailed report by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO, less than eight weeks earlier. Seven months before the visit, a report prepared by Smith’s own department had documented the widespread concern about the routine use of torture in Bangladesh. Smith spoke publicly during the visit about the dangers that could be posed by dual nationals; privately, according to a senior DGFI counter-terrorism officer, she urged that the agency investigate a number of individuals about whom the British were suspicious.
In September it emerged that in recent years MI5 and MI6 have always asked the home secretary or foreign secretary for permission before conducting any information exchange where there was a risk of an individual being tortured. Smith, her successor Alan Johnson and David Miliband, the foreign secretary during the period of the joint UK-Bangladeshi counter-terrorism campaign, have declined to answer questions about the matter.
A number of the British suspects were taken to the secret interrogation centre, known as the Task Force for Interrogation cell (TFI). The location of the TFI and the methods employed by those who work there became clear during the Guardian investigation, with both former inmates and intelligence officials speaking out about its operations.
Faisal Mostafa, from Manchester, was taken to the TFI after Smith’s visit to Dhaka and is alleged to have been forced to stand upright for the first six days of his incarceration, with his wrists shackled to bars above his head. He is then alleged to have then been beaten and subjected to electric shocks while being questioned about Bangladeshi associates. At the point at which he was to be questioned about his associates and activities in the UK, he is said to have been blindfolded and strapped to a chair while a drill was slowly driven into his right shoulder and hip.
This abuse during questioning about the UK is said to have been repeated on a number of occasions. The Guardian has seen evidence that supports the allegation that he was tortured in this manner. The report prepared by Smith’s own department povides warning that the paramilitary police unit that seized this man used precisely this method of torture.
Matiur Rahman, deputy chief of operations at the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the police unit that detained the man, said: “The British were interested in him for some time. There was an assumption he was part of an international network. They gave information to us, and we gave information to them.”
After being tortured for several weeks the man spent almost a year in jail before being freed on bail and allowed to return to the UK.
A second man, Gulam Mustafa, from Birmingham, was being held in Bangladesh during Smith’s visit, and was released before being held a second time last April. He says he was tortured on both occasions while being questioned about associates in the UK, with his interrogators beating him, subjecting him to electric shocks and crushing his knees. He was eventually transferred to a prison hospital, where he was treated for injuries suffered he suffered during interrogation.Bangladeshi police officers who arrested him the second time say his first arrest had been at the request of MI6. “When we received the file from his first arrest from RAB, it was marked ‘MI6 File’,” said one senior detective. He added that when this man was arrested for the second time, officials from the British high commission in Dhaka contacted police and asked to be debriefed on the results of his interrogation. “They wanted maximum information.” he said.
A third man, Jamil Rahman, from Swansea, is suing the Home Office, alleging that MI5 was complicit in his torture after he was arrested in 2005 and allegedly tortured in between interrogation by two British intelligence officers.
Smith said she would not answer questions “about the timings of any specific authorisations she may or may not have given the security service”. She declined to say whether she accepted that individuals would be at risk of torture when she asked the Bangladeshi authorities to investigate them. Johnson refused to answer any questions about the matter.
Miliband failed to answer a series of questions about dual nationals investigated in Bangladesh, and about any role he played in granting permission for MI6 to be involved in their cases. A spokeswoman issued a statement on his behalf which said that there were no Foreign Office papers showing that ministers were asked to sanction the arrest of Faisal Mostafa or Gulam Mustafa. She added: “David would never ever sanction torture and it is completely wrong to suggest, imply, or leave a shadow of a doubt otherwise. The UK has detailed procedures that uphold the moral and legal conduct of the intelligence agencies and those responsible for them. When David was Foreign Secretary he followed them scrupulously.”
The Foreign Office said both Mostafa and Mustafa had been offered consular assistance, and reiterated the government’s position on torture. “The government have made absolutely clear in the Coalition’s Programme for Government that we will never condone the use of torture,” a spokesman said. “We take all allegations of torture and mistreatment very seriously, and – where we have permission to do so from the individual concerned – raise them with the relevant authorities. Our security cooperation with other countries is consistent with our laws and values.”