Mustafa al-Hawsawi: 18 years on from his detention by US forces, legal challenge seeks to determine the extent of UK involvement in his torture

1 March 2021 marked 18 years of Mustafa al-Hawsawi’s detention at the hands of US forces, since he was detained by Pakistani agents and transferred into the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in March 2003.

Mustafa was tortured and detained in secret CIA black sites as part of the CIA programme (for example, see Report  of  the  Senate  Select  Committee  on  Intelligence  Committee  Study  of the  Central  Intelligence  Agency’s  Detention  and  Interrogation  Program, 2014, at pp. 96, 100, 106-107) until September 2006, when he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and US agents finally acknowledged his detention. This CIA programme included the application of so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” which encompassed waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation, stress positions, confinement in tiny, closed spaces and various forms of physical violence.

There is evidence to suggest that UK intelligence agencies encouraged, facilitated, or conspired with US authorities in the torture and ill-treatment of those classed as ‘High Value Detainees’ (HVDs) within the CIA programme.  Mustafa was one of the 14 HVDs transferred to Guantánamo in 2006 (see ICRC Report of February 2007).

As a result, REDRESS has recently filed a complaint before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – the judicial body which oversees the actions of UK intelligence agencies – against the UK Agencies in relation to conduct likely to have been carried out against Mustafa by or on behalf of UK Agencies, namely the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Defence Intelligence, Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Through this complaint, REDRESS seeks to obtain the following:

  • Documents and information in the custody or control of UK Agencies concerning Mustafa’s detention and treatment;
  • A declaration that UK Agencies and/or their agents were complicit in the torture and ill-treatment suffered by Mustafa and that their conduct was unlawful, that he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment during his detention, and that the UK agencies were complicit in the torture and ill-treatment (including by providing questions to US officials to be put to Mustafa during interrogation, and/or by receiving information obtained from him during interrogation – whilst being aware that he was being subjected, or likely to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment);
  • Compensation for the conduct of the UK Agencies, including their role in Mustafa’s torture and ill-treatment; and
  • Costs.

Our submission emphasises that, in the light of Mustafa’s HVD status, it is likely that UK Agencies or their agents would have provided questions and/or information to US officials to be put during Mustafa’s interrogations and/or received information from such interrogations, because, for example:

  • The 2018 Report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (“Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010”) (the ISC Report) contains detailed findings about the UK Agencies knowledge of, and their involvement and complicity in, the rendition, torture and ill- treatment of detainees under the HVD Programme. This report specifically reveals that UK Agencies were complicit in the ill-treatment of various HVDs and other detainees.
  • The ISC Report establishes that the UK Agencies were complicit in the ill-treatment of two named individuals who were designated as HVD by the CIA – namely Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed – and scores of other unnamed HVDs and other detainees. Because Mr al-Hawsawi was designated as a HVD, it is highly likely that he would have been of significant interest to the UK Agencies.
  • In 2008, Mr al-Hawsawi was arraigned on capital charges alongside Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (whom the ISC Report establishes was a figure of significant interest to the UK Agencies).

REDRESS is grateful for the assistance of barristers Eddie Craven and Richard Hermer QC, both at Matrix Chambers, in connection with the drafting of this submission.

Read more about the case here.

Photo of MI6 building, London by Alastair Rae at