Britain's Torture files

Documents released on 13 July 2010 in the civil court case brought against the British Government by Binyam Mohamed and others reveal that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair personally overruled the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's demand for consular access to British nationals captured by the US in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Blair Government ordered the Foreign Office (FCO) to violate its legal obligations under the Vienna Convention, which requires the UK to provide consular assistance to British nationals swept up by the US around the world.

We will have to wait for the outcome of the court case to discover exactly how far the British Government went in its complicity in American torture. The files released so far have been heavily redacted by the Government. And they represent only a tiny fraction of the thousands of files relevant to the case that the Government holds and that may eventually be shown to the court. But the material already available makes it clear that the British Government actively supported the extra-legal detention of British nationals and British residents at Guantánamo Bay, their extra-legal transfer - extraordinary rendition, in other words - from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, and the extra-legal transfer to Afghanistan of people kidnapped elsewhere by the US.

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of legal charity Reprieve which represents a number of current and former Guantánamo prsoners said:

“We now have documentary evidence that these decisions went deep into Number 10. Tony Blair expressly ordered Jack Straw to violate the law, and refuse to help British nationals who were being detained across the world by the United States. He expressly sanctioned the rendition of British citizens. These are people who, after years of abuse, were never charged with any wrongdoing. This was a betrayal, pure and simple, of both the men and of any moral principle.”

The torture files - key extracts

  • "we accept that the transfer of UK nationals held by US forces in Afghanistan to the US base in Guantánamo is the best way to meet out counter-terrorism objective by ensuring that they are securely held." - telegram from the FCO, January 10, 2002
  • "instructions from London were unequivocal. We should not accept responsibility for or take custody of [Mubanga]. This was subsequently reinforced by the message from No 10 that under no circumstances should Mubanga be allowed to return to the UK. *** And it became clear that if we requested consular access […REDACTED…] thereby de facto acknowledging him as a UK national, he would have been handed over to us. This would have gone against all other instructions from London." - FCO message, 2002

The torture files