US soldier at Guantanamo Bay

UK Tribunal Will Investigate Complaint of Guantanamo Detainee against the UK Intelligence Services for their Alleged Complicity in his Torture

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the judicial body which probes complaints against the UK intelligence services, has announced today that it will investigate the complaint brought by Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a REDRESS client, against the UK intelligence services for their alleged complicity in his torture by US agents. Although the Tribunal’s investigations remain secretive and lack transparency, to the best of our knowledge, there have not been any previous full investigations undertaken by the Tribunal in relation to those held in the CIA’s black sites programme. 

Al-Hawsawi has been detained in Guantánamo Bay since 2006, after having been tortured for several years at Central Intelligence Agencies (CIA)’s black sites. He was one of 14 “High Value Detainees” transferred to the US military base in Guantánamo, who were found to be at a particular risk of torture and ill-treatment by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) Programme, Al-Hawsawi was subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, which included in his case water-dousing (a technique similar to water-boarding), walling, attention grasps, facial holds, cramped confinements, psychological pressures and sleep deprivation. Following these violations, Mustafa was diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomatic rectal prolapse.  

There is evidence to suggest that UK intelligence agencies encouraged, facilitated, or conspired with US authorities in the torture and ill-treatment of “High Value Detainees” within the CIA programme. Following a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London earlier this month, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal rejected arguments put forward by UK government lawyers that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the complaint. UK government lawyers argued that it was a case which should have been brought in the High Court. However, the Tribunal, whose investigatory role differs from that of a normal court, decided that it should investigate the complaint in the usual way (ie according to public law principles).  

The Tribunal also exercised its discretion to allow the complaint to progress, despite the fact that it was made beyond the normal one-year limit period for filing complaints, noting the stringent communication restrictions on Al-Hawsawi who is still in Guantánamo Bay, and the issues raised by the complaint which are “of the gravest possible kind”. 

In its decision, made public today, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal noted : 

“…it is alleged that the intelligence services of the UK were complicit in torture by agents of the US. If the allegations are true, it is imperative that that should be established.  If they are not true, it is just as important that that should be made clear, so as to maintain public confidence. We conclude that it would be in the public interest for these issues to be considered by this Tribunal, which is a fair, independent and impartial court.” 

The complaint, brought by REDRESS on behalf of Al-Hawsawi, seeks to obtain: documents and information held by UK Agencies regarding Mustafa’s torture and ill-treatment;  a declaration that UK Agencies or their agents were involved in his torture and ill-treatment and that their conduct was unlawful; compensation for their conduct, and costs. 

Al Hawsawi faces capital charges before a US Military Commission in Guantánamo Bay for his alleged involvement as a financier of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA. However, the redacted Executive Summary of the US Select Committee on Intelligence on its investigation into the RDI programme identifies him as one of several individuals who were detained under the CIA’s program “despite doubts and questions surrounding [his] knowledge of terrorist threats and the location of senior al-Qa’ida leadership.” REDRESS has been representing Al-Hawsawi since 2012, including in ongoing proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. 

Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor at REDRESS said: 

“We welcome the decision of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to allow this complaint to proceed given the grave nature of the issues raised by our client. The serious allegations of collusion in his torture by the UK intelligence services deserve a proper investigation, and we are pleased that the Tribunal has robustly rejected the UK government’s attempts to prevent the Tribunal from doing so.”

REDRESS is grateful for the assistance of barristers Richard Hermer KC, Edward Craven, and Florence Iveson, all of Matrix Chambers, for their continuing work on this case. 

Read more about the case here. 

For more information or for an interview, please contact Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, on [email protected], +44 (0)20 7793 1777 (office) or +44 (0) 7857 110076 (mobile). 

Photo by John F. Williams (CC-BY-ND-2.0)