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Tortured for 7 years – and the British government knew it

This article is over 11 years, 10 months old
The Labour government is fighting in the courts to stop its complicity in torture coming to light. Simon Basketter looks at the shattering evidence of Britain’s involvement in torture around the world
Issue 2193

Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni is just 32 years old but has difficulty walking even with a walking frame. He is dependent on antibiotics and antidepressants and he can’t hear out of his left ear.

He was kidnapped in 2002 by the CIA and, over a seven year period, was tortured in at least five countries, including in British controlled territory.

The government says it is never complicit in torture. It is lying – and Madni’s story proves it.

Foreign secretary David Miliband has admitted the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was used to refuel two so-called “rendition” flights.

One of those flights carried Madni, who was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantanamo Bay with the explanation that he was no longer considered an “enemy combatant”.

He had been arrested early in 2002 in Indonesia, after apparently boasting that he knew how to make a shoe bomb.

Madni denies ever having made the statement. After his arrest he was beaten, tightly shackled, subjected to electric shocks, covered with a hood and given drugs.

He was made to stand for days on end, and at one point was forced to live lying down in a cell that measured just four feet by six – little bigger than the size of a coffin. He was kept there for 92 days.

Later he was kept in a steel cage surrounded by razor wire.

The torture began at the Jakarta airport in Indonesia. He was then shoved onto a plane, chained and blindfolded.

The CIA flew Madni from Jakarta to Cairo. During the flight he was bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears, and was unable to move because shackles wound tightly around his body.

He was interrogated for 12 to 15 hours a day on 11, 12 and 20 January 2002.

While his interrogators were Egyptian, there were other men in the room whose faces were covered and who did not speak. They passed notes with questions to the Egyptians.

Socialist Worker believes that British intelligence were present at some of his interrogations.

Madni says one interrogator had an “English accent”. He suspects he was “some kind of British official” even though he claimed to be a member of the US national security service.

He was asked when he had gone to Afghanistan and how he had met Osama bin Laden. When he replied that he had never been to Afghanistan and had not met bin Laden, he was tortured with electric shocks.

Madni says his interrogators forced him to drink liquids that were laced with drugs “so you don’t know what you are talking about”.

After months of being asked to confess to going to Afghanistan, his torturers sent him there for the first time in his life.


In early April 2002 the US flew Madni to Bagram, the air base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. They held him there for almost a year, at times shackled and handcuffed in a small cage with other prisoners. He was tortured again.

The torturers deprived him of sleep for six months. They transferred him to Guantanamo Bay on 23 March 2003, where he tried to hang himself twice, and went on three hunger strikes.

Since the beginning of the “war on terror”, the CIA, with the full knowledge of the British government, has used a fleet of executive jets to secretly transport prisoners around the globe.

Some prisoners went to the CIA’s own secret facilities. The US sent many more to prisons in the Middle East and Central Asia, where repressive governments tortured them.

In January 2006, then foreign secretary Jack Straw said, “The US would not render a detainee through British territory or airspace without our permission.”

The same year Straw admitted that the British government had, in 1998, granted the US permission to use British airports for five rendition flights.

The British and US governments now say that the rendition torture process is over. But they are also the ones who claimed that it never happened all.

Today hundreds of people who were forced through that process remain unaccounted for.

Diego Garcia

The tiny Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is British territory – but is home to about 3,200 US military personnel and civilian support staff.

It plays a critical role in the CIA’s global network of secret prisons.

  • The people of Diego Garcia were expelled when the island was leased to the US in the 1960s. It is, however, still a British territory.
  • The CIA has a secret prison there.
  • On 5 December 2006, US general Barry McCaffrey said of suspected terrorists, “They’re behind bars, they’re dead, they’re apprehended. We’ve got them on Diego Garcia, in Bagram air field, in Guantanamo.”
  • A Council of Europe report included testimonies from more than 30 serving and former members of intelligence services in the US and Europe.

    Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who issued the council’s report, says, “We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA’s illegal activities on their territories.”

    He meant the British government.

  • Strangely, British government papers about Diego Garcia – including flight records in and out of the island – have disappeared.

The evidence of British involvement in torture keeps on mounting up

  • On 1 November Wahab al-Rawi, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna were questioned by British spy service MI5 at Gatwick airport. MI5 said they had found “a timing device” or something that “could possibly be used for a car-based improvised explosive device.” It was a battery charger. MI5 sent their information to the CIA who had the three men arrested in Gambia, where they were rendered to Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay.
  • Binyam Mohamed revealed that MI5 had been complicit in the torture he suffered at the hands of secret police in Morocco and Pakistan. An MI5 agent visited Binyam while he was being tortured in Pakistan, and worked with his US interrogators.
  • In 2002, British citizens Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were interrogated 200 times. They confessed to being in an Al Qaida video set in Afghanistan. In fact they weren’t, and they were in Britain at the time the video was made. In Afghanistan they were brought before an interrogator who told them that he was from the British SAS.
  • British resident Shaker Aamer was held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Sometime between the end of December 2001 and 23 January 2002 he was visited by a British man who said he was with MI5. He told Shaker his name was “John”. Shaker also recalls a visit in Kandahar by a British man in a uniform.
  • MI5 and Greater Manchester police drew up a list of questions to be put to Rangzieb Ahmed, who was detained by the Pakistani secret services in August 2006. By the time Ahmed was deported to Britain after a lengthy period of unlawful detention, three of his fingernails were missing.
  • Azhar Khan was detained in Egypt in 2005. During his detention he was handcuffed, forced to stand naked with a hood over his head, beaten, subjected to electric shocks and interrogated. During his interrogation, Azhar said he could hear other inmates who were also being tortured. He heard a man with a British accent asking questions.
  • Moazzam Begg says that during detention in Kandahar he was subjected to heavy torture and interrogated, sometimes naked, by security services, including MI5.
  • In 2006 the foreign office admitted that a senior MI6 officer was present at the interrogation of Pakistani immigrants who were illegally seized in Greece. The agent’s name was Nicholas Langam. The 28 men were abducted from their homes then beaten and psychologically tortured.

Blair, Straw, Miliband and the rest all knew what was going on

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, has said the British intelligence agency didn’t know about torture and would not use evidence obtained from torture.

Here are some reasons why she is lying.

  • Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has provided documents from 2003 that expose the British government’s complicity with torture.

    One contains a series of letters from Murray to the foreign office warning that “intelligence” being passed to Britain from Uzbek security services had been obtained through torture.

    The second document is from a foreign office lawyer justifying the use of information obtained by torture on the grounds that this does not break the UN Convention on Torture.

    Murray notes an intelligence official called Matthew Kydd who said that “they found some of the material very useful indeed, with a direct bearing on the war on terror”.

  • Tony Blair knew people were being tortured.

    British intelligence officers were given written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture. Nor should they “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners”.

    But they were also told they were not under any obligation to act to stop detainees from being mistreated.

    “Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.

    The policy was set out in written instructions sent to MI5 and MI6 officers in January 2002. In other words MI5 at very least knew about the torture the US was involved in.

    Blair admitted he was aware of the policy in the middle of 2004.

    In a letter in May 2004, Blair said, “British intelligence personnel interviewing or witnessing the interviews of detainees are instructed to report if they believe detainees are being treated in an inhumane or degrading way.”

    So Blair knew, Jack Straw knew, David Miliband knew, MI6 knew, MI5 officers knew and various newspapers printed stories of US torture – yet somehow we are supposed to believe that the head of MI5 didn’t have a clue.

Secret prisons

The CIA has a network of secret prisons around the world.

One CIA agent said of Guantanamo Bay, “This is the press release. This is what they want you to see. This is where they’re taking the cameras.

“But you should know there’s a much wider system of detention, of camps around the world, where people are being taken.”

On at least three occasions children under ten were taken.

There are at least 39 named individuals who have completely disappeared after being “rendered”.

And there are hundreds more we know very little about.

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