Britain gives approval to torture, claims Amnesty
By Ben Russell and Colin Brown, Independant, 26 November 2005
Tony Blair has been accused of undermining decades of British campaigning for international human rights by using the war on terror to give a « green light » to torture. Amnesty International is to launch an unprecedented global campaign tomorrow against the British Government after ministers admitted they would use information gained by torture to prevent attacks on the United Kingdom.
Mike Gapes, the Labour MP and chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, hit out at the Government after Ian Pearson, the Foreign Office minister responsible for human rights, said evidence obtained under torture could not be ignored if it might prevent an attack.
He said: « The fact the Government now seems prepared to use evidence obtained under torture sends a worrying signal and may mean that while we say we condemn the use of torture, other countries might feel they have a green light to use torture to get evidence on terrorism. »
Amnesty is to turn the tactics it used against torture by dictatorships in the Seventies and Eighties on the Government as it puts the campaign against British anti-terror laws at the forefront of the organisation’s global fight for human rights. It will call on its two million members worldwide to join a letter-writing campaign targeting Mr Blair and build international pressure to oppose plans to deport suspects to countries that use torture.
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty UK, said Britain’s actions posed one of the greatest threats to human rights in the West. She condemned Britain for attempting to secure memorandums of understanding with other states to allow the deportation of terror suspects
The Government has signed memorandums with Jordan and Libya and is negotiating deals with Algeria and other countries to attempt to ensure that detainees are not mistreated if they are returned.
But campaigners insist the deals are « not worth the paper they are written on » and undermine the global ban on torture. Meanwhile the House of Lords is also yet to rule on whether the UK can use evidence against terror suspects that may have been obtained under torture abroad.
Amnesty’s campaign, to be launched with a rally outside Downing Street, has huge symbolic resonance for Labour. Ms Allen said: « We are incredibly angry about the way in which the UK Government is moving from being a defender of human rights to being a defender of torturers.
« We want to open people’s eyes to what is being done in their name. Whilst we used to be sending diplomats around the world stopping torture we are flying them around the world to sign agreements with countries that use torture.
« This is deeply shocking. What is happening in the UK is of such magnitude that is has created anger in Amnesty as a worldwide movement. The UK has been at the forefront of establishing international law and helping human rights. It is in danger of simply throwing that away and I don’t think backbenchers and the public realise that. »
Mr Pearson had suggested on Thursday during a meeting of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that the Government might use evidence obtained under torture. He said: « When we get to the situation where there is evidence that might prevent a future atrocity and we have suspicions that evidence might be obtained from torture, well I think we have to use that evidence. I don’t think you can completely ignore what might turn out to be vital evidence that will save the lives of UK citizens. »
A day earlier, Mr Blair had told MPs: « We do not agree with the use of torture. » Pressed over whether that was an absolute rule, Mr Blair added: « I mean absolute in this sense, that you say ‘Look, it is simply the civil liberties of the suspect, or simply the liberties of freedom from terrorism’. You have to balance those two things. »
He went on: « Of course there are absolute rules that we have about torture, or about the death penalty for example … I do not accept that the anti-terrorist measures that we have been introducing transgress that. »