'Questions, answers, months of brutality'
Three accounts accuse MI5 men of complicity in interrogation ordeals
Ian Cobain The Guardian, Tuesday April 29 2008
After two weeks in a secret prison run by Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani security agency denounced by human rights activists as one of the most vicious in the world, Salahuddin Amin says he was ready to do whatever he was asked. The college graduate from Luton claims he had been deprived of sleep for several days before being beaten, whipped and threatened with an electric drill. Then, he says, he was suspended by his wrists and beaten some more. His suffering appears to have been filmed, through a poorly concealed camera in the corner of the ceiling of his cell.
After about 15 days of interrogation, he says, he was taken from his cell, blindfolded, hooded and shackled and pushed into the back of a car. After 20 minutes the car stopped and he was led into a building, up some stairs, and left alone in an air-conditioned room.
In an account that Amin has written of his 10 months in the ISI's prison, he describes what happened next.
"The door opened and a few people entered. When my hood was taken off I saw two white men standing in front of me. One of them looked at the major and asked if my handcuffs could be taken off.
"He introduced himself at Matt from MI5 and his colleague was Chris. His tone was friendly, which was a relief. Matt was a senior officer but Chris seemed more like an office boy and during the questioning he just took notes. Matt and Chris took their notebooks and pens out.
"Matt had a list of questions, which I soon realised were from the previous interrogations by the major."
It was, Amin and his lawyers allege, the start of a pattern that would be played out for the next 10 months: he would be asked a series of questions, under torture, and would give answers.
The torture would stop, and there would be another interview with the men later named at Amin's trial as Matt and Chris. Amin says he would be asked the same questions that his torturers had already asked, and he would give the same answers. Then the two British men would leave, and the torture would begin again, with a different set of questions. This was April 2004, and Amin, then 29, had moved to Pakistan three years earlier after graduating from an engineering course at the University of Hertfordshire. He says he was in search of a slower, more peaceful life. Police and the Security Service say he was in contact with senior figures in al-Qaida. He surrendered himself to the ISI after the agency contacted his uncle, a retired brigadier from the Pakistan army, to say the British were seeking his arrest.
A few days earlier, 18 people had been detained at addresses across the south-east of England and were being questioned over a plot to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, or the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London, with a half-tonne fertiliser bomb. Amin was accused of supplying the formula needed to mix the explosives.
Amin says the MI5 officers would insist that his main torturer remained in the room - "as much as they hated him smoking like a chimney, and his mobile phone going off every few minutes" - because they wanted this man to know which questions had not been answered. These, Amin alleges, would form the basis of the next torture session. The presence of the torturer also meant he felt unable to complain to the British about his treatment, although he does not believe this would have served any purpose, as he is convinced MI5 wanted him tortured. "I assumed my treatment was tolerated by the British at a very high level," he would later tell the Old Bailey.
After 10 months in ISI custody, Amin was put aboard a plane to Heathrow. There was no extradition process or court hearing. On landing he was arrested and charged with conspiring to cause explosions, and put on trial alongside six of the men who had been arrested in this country. He and four of those men were convicted after a year-long trial and are now serving life sentences.
During the trial, Amin's counsel, Patrick O'Connor QC, suggested to the jury that there had been "a tacit understanding of some considerable amorality" between MI5 and the ISI, with the British knowing their Pakistani counterparts could torture him with impunity.
The war on terror, O'Connor suggested, "has led those on both sides ... to share common standards of illegality and immorality".
There may be some at MI5 who would argue that some very difficult moral decisions need to be taken to protect Britain from the sort of mass murder and suffering that Amin and his friends were convicted of plotting. In public, however, the agency has said nothing about the allegations that it has colluded in torture. It is impossible to report on the response that MI5 gave at Amin's trial: testimony from its officers was heard in camera, with press and the public excluded. Asked about the allegation that MI5 had colluded in torture, the agency's spokesman at the Home Office gave no comment.
At Scotland Yard, however, one senior officer involved in counter-terrorism operations has conceded privately that he accepts Amin was tortured.
Amin is not alone in alleging that MI5 colluded in his torture. A 33-year-old man from Manchester, who cannot be named for legal reasons, spent more than a year in Pakistani custody after being picked up by the ISI in August 2006.
He says he was dragged from a taxi in Haripur, 40 miles north of Islamabad, and surrounded by ISI officers accompanied by a white woman. He was hooded and shackled and driven to a building where he was locked in a small cell that also had a camera fixed in a corner of the ceiling.
The man's description of the place where he was held suggests that it was the same secret interrogation centre in Rawalpindi at which Amin had been detained more than two years earlier.
For the first 14 days, he says, he was deprived of sleep, beaten about the head during interrogation, whipped on the thighs and buttocks with a rubber lash, and beaten on the soles of his feet with a wooden stick.
On the sixth or seventh day, he alleges, one of his interrogators took a pair of pliers from a box and removed a fingernail from his left hand. He says that at the end of this process he was given a painkilling injection and his finger was bandaged. He says that on the following day a second nail was removed, and a third the day after that. He says that after each of these torture sessions he was given painkillers and his finger bandaged.
'Shackled and blindfolded'
After two weeks, he says he was given a change of clothes, shackled, blindfolded and hooded, taken from the detention centre and driven for about 20 minutes. When his hood and blindfold were removed he found himself in a well-furnished office with drawn curtains. Two men in their 30s walked in, introduced themselves as being "from the British government", and questioned him for 30-40 minutes.
He says he was in obvious discomfort and his three fingers were clearly bandaged. He says he told these men that he had been tortured, but neither appeared to make any note of his complaint.
Eight months after his arrest, the man was transferred to prison. Five months after that he was driven to Islamabad airport where he says he met British consular officials for the first time. One, he says, told him he was returning to the UK where he would see his family and receive medical treatment. He says she also told him that consular officials had refused access to him.
On arrival at Heathrow, the man was arrested and taken to Manchester, where he discovered that four alleged associates had been arrested and questioned at the same time he says he was being tortured by the ISI. Two had been charged with terrorism offences, and he was charged with three counts of directing a terrorist organisation.
His lawyers are convinced that the two British officials who questioned him were from MI5, and that MI5 colluded in his torture. The lawyers say that three of his fingernails were missing when they first saw him, and that they have a pathologist's report that they say supports his allegation they were forcibly extracted. They also have a report from a psychiatrist who says the man is suffering from post-traumatic stress.
A third British citizen, Zeeshan Siddiqui, also claims that he was tortured in Pakistan before being interrogated by British officials. Siddiqui's claims should perhaps be treated with some caution, as he has a history of mental illness.
What is beyond dispute is that he was detained by the ISI and spent eight months in Pakistani custody accused of being a terrorist. Given the agency's reputation, it seems unlikely that he would have escaped mistreatment.
And given that he is from Hounslow, west London, that he is a former London underground worker, and that he had been a close friend of Asif Hanif, who killed himself and murdered three others in a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv in 2003, it would be extraordinary if British counter-terrorism officials did not want to question him.
'Catheter forcibly inserted'
Siddiqui, 27, claims that after being detained in Peshawar, Pakistan, in May 2005, ISI agents threatened him, beat him and injected him with a variety of drugs. He alleges that he was chained to a bed for 11 days, had chemicals injected up his nose and a feeding tube pushed down his throat.
He also says a catheter was forcibly inserted and removed from his penis, causing bleeding. He was then taken to prison, where he says he was questioned by British intelligence officers.
Siddiqui's description of his first meeting is remarkably similar to that of the 33-year-old's from Manchester. He says the British officers began by explaining that there were people at the consular division of the high commission whose job it was to help British citizens, but then stressed: "We want you to know that we are not those people, we are from British intelligence."
In an interview with the BBC after his release, Siddiqui said: "Every time they came I tried to make the point to them that I had been tortured. They admitted that they know the situation in Pakistan, the conditions were very bad in prison. They even acknowledged that, you know, torture is used in Pakistan."
It is unclear whether Siddiqui had been arrested at the request of UK authorities. Eventually he was released without charge and put aboard an aircraft to the UK, where he was subjected to a control order. In September 2006 he escaped from a psychiatric unit by climbing out of a window and has not been seen since.
Salahuddin Amin's account
'I felt as if my skin was ripping'
In an account that Salahuddin Amin has written of his 10 months as a prisoner of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, he describes how his first three days were spent in a cell with a small camera in the corner of the ceiling. The light was kept on all day and night, and guards banged on the door whenever he began to sleep. Not far away he could hear the sound of people being whipped and screaming. On the third day his interrogators began swearing and screaming at him and ordered a guard to bring two rubber whips.
They both started hitting me around my back, shoulders and thighs with full force. They were constantly hitting me and swearing at me. I was in extreme pain. I felt as if my skin was ripping apart. I broke down and started crying.
The word Allah came out of my mouth. The inspector started hitting me even harder when he heard the word Allah. Sometimes I wondered if they were really Muslims. At one point the inspector pointed at the camera and asked me if I knew there was a camera there, and I said yes. To this day I don't know why he said that.
After beating me for a few minutes, that seemed like hours, the inspector ordered the guard to get the drill. This is when I got really scared because I didn't know how far these people could go. I have heard many stories about them torturing people to death. I was in tears.
The drill machine was brought in and plugged in outside the room somewhere. It didn't work at first and the inspector shouted at the guard and said to make it work. I was praying that it wouldn't work, but it started working. The inspector told Sikander to drill a hole in my backside and he told me to face the wall and lift my shirt and I had no choice but to do so. Sikander came and warned me while the machine was running. He touched me.
I realised later it wasn't the drill machine he touched me with because I had no injuries, but at that point I really thought it was a drill. They were doing this to break me. I started saying to them that I would agree with whatever they would want me to.
That's when the inspector told me to sit on the stool and put my glasses back on. They then showed me a photograph of another terrorism suspect. I told them that I knew him, and met him in Luton ...