Second investigation to open into role of British spies in torture of Guantánamo detainee

The Camp 6 detention facility at the Guantánamo Bay US base in Cuba. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri claim UK intelligence was ‘complicit in his ill-treatment’ by the US

The UK’s intelligence agencies are facing a fresh judicial investigation into allegations that British spies were complicit in the CIA’s post-9/11 secret torture and rendition programme.

The investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) has said it will open a second investigation into allegations that the intelligence services were involved in the mistreatment of a prisoner detained by the US.

In a ruling released on Friday, the secretive court said it would examine a complaint filed on behalf of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian citizen held at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

Nashiri, who is alleged by the US to have plotted al-Qaida’s bombing of an American naval ship in Yemen, was captured by the CIA in 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo in 2006. He has been held in indefinite detention ever since.

Lawyers for Nashiri have argued that there is an “irresistible inference” that the UK’s intelligence agencies, including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, participated in intelligence sharing relating to al-Nashiri and “were complicit in his torture and ill-treatment”.

The IPT’s decision to investigate the claims comes after it agreed in May to examine a similar complaint by another man held at Guantánamo, Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

In its latest ruling, the IPT – a specialist judicial body that hears complaints against the intelligence services – said the underlying issues in both cases “are of the gravest possible kind”.

UK government lawyers had sought to persuade the tribunal that Nashiri was out of time to pursue the complaint, but a panel of judges said it was “in the public interest for these issues to be considered” in the same way Hawsawi’s case is being examined.

The IPT has unique powers to obtain classified files from the intelligence agencies, which will now be required to share with the tribunal documents relating to the UK’s cooperation with the CIA.

Together, the cases before the IPT illustrate how questions about the UK’s complicity in the CIA’s mistreatment of prisoners continue to weigh on British intelligence more than two decades after the secret detention programme began.

In 2018, the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee concluded that the UK’s spy agencies were involved in the CIA’s kidnap and torture of terrorism suspects. The government later abandoned a commitment to hold a judge-led public inquiry into the issue.

Following the parliamentary committee’s findings, lawyers at Sternberg Reed filed a complaint with the IPT in which they argued that Nashiri was of “specific interest” to British intelligence in the 2000s.

According to a US senate investigation into the CIA’s detention programme, al-Nashiri was repeatedly tortured while held in secret prisons operated by the agency, known as black sites.

The so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against him included waterboarding, mock executions and “rectal feeding”, which according to medical experts was a form of violent sexual assault.

Nashiri is awaiting trial in a death penalty case before a military tribunal in connection with the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors. Earlier this year, a UN human rights panel called for his immediate release.

Responding to the IPT’s decision, Nashiri’s barrister, Hugh Southey KC, said: “There are legitimate concerns about the role the UK played in the treatment of Mr Nashiri. We welcome the fact that there will now be an independent review of the conduct of the UK services.”