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Guantanamo Bay detainee sues British intelligence agencies over torture

International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
September 12, 2007

A former detainee at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay filed a lawsuit against the British government Wednesday, alleging the country's spy agencies knew he was being abused yet allowed his continued interrogations.

Hundreds of detainees have been released without charge after being held for years at the U.S. prison camp. Several have filed suits against the American government but this is the first known case alleging MI5 and MI6 were complicit in the alleged abuse.

The case raises questions of how much power Britain had in the U.S.-led prison camps, what constituted abuse or mistreatment, whether agents should have kept interrogating detainees amid the allegations, and what — if any — useful information was gleaned from specific detainees during years of interrogations that the FBI once criticized as sometimes heavy-handed.

Tarek Dergoul, 29, claimed in documents filed in London's High Court that he was repeatedly abused and tortured while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. After roughly two years in U.S. custody, he was released in 2004 without charge.

Although he says British agents never abused him or threatened him, he alleges the British government acted illegally by obtaining information from him although they knew he was being abused or mistreated.

Dergoul said he was held in Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan, and later in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

During his captivity, he said he was visited several times by British intelligence agents from MI5 or MI6. He said he told them about his beatings, sexual assaults during searches, being subjected to extreme temperatures and being repeatedly attacked by the Extreme Reaction Force — a special military riot squad that had been criticized for its techniques and use of females with Muslims.

Louise Christian, a lawyer in the firm representing Dergoul, accused the British government of failing to take a strong stand against abuse, mistreatment and torture of detainees held in U.S. custody.

Telephone calls to the Pentagon were not immediately returned.

The Foreign Office, which oversees MI6, said it raised concerns about allegations of mistreatment.

"We asked the U.S. authorities to investigate these allegations and to assure us that British detainees would not be subjected to any abuse at Guantanamo Bay," said a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. "We received reassurances from the U.S. authorities that the British detainees were not abused or mistreated."

A British government security official said MI5 officers interviewing detainees overseas must abide by Britain's Human Rights Act, which forbids the use of torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment.

The protocol is less clear, however, if detainees are allegedly being abused or mistreated by foreign captors.

In at least four cases of prisoners being held in Guantanamo, MI5 raised concerns over allegations of mistreatment, the official said, lodging official complaints to the FBI and CIA and passing along other concerns.

"Interviews were not carried out in those cases, the detaining authorities were notified and agents reported their concerns back to London," the official said.

Shortly after the prison camp opened, the FBI warned the U.S. Department of Defense of heavy-handed interrogations, although the documented cases of abuses did not identify the detainees or their nationalities.

The officials would not confirm whether British agents raised concerns about Dergoul's treatment or if the four cases involved British prisoners.

In a report in March 2005, lawmakers on Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee said British intelligence agents had made a total of 15 complaints about detainee treatment in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq.

British agents had conducted or observed around 2,000 detainee interviews by 2005, the lawmakers said.

Dergoul claims he flew to Pakistan in July 2001 and later went to Afghanistan to purchase property.

He said a group of Afghan warlords sold him to U.S. authorities shortly after the airstrikes began and he was flown to the U.S. camp in Bagram where he alleged U.S. authorities held a gun to his head, beat him, threatened him and subjected him to the cold.

He was then sent to Kandahar where he said he was hooded during regular interrogations, prevented medical treatment and forced to watch as U.S. authorities ripped up the Quran.

After three months in Kandahar he was moved to Guantanamo.

He said in Guantanamo, he was regularly assaulted by a riot squad that used pepper spray on him, beat him and place his head in the toilet. He also said in the court documents he was "shackled to the floor for up to 10 hours with no access to a toilet."

Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report from London.

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