London and its torturing allies

Christopher Hitchens may be sharing his bromance with Tony Blair in the latest Vanity Fair, but back in the real world away from elite cocktail party chatter, Britain stands condemned:

UK authorities passed information about British nationals to notorious Bangladeshi intelligence agencies and police units, then pressed for information while the men were being held at a secret interrogation centre where inmates are known to have died under torture.

A Guardian investigation into counter-terrorism co-operation between the UK and Bangladesh has revealed a detailed picture of the last Labour government’s reliance on overseas intelligence agencies that were known to use torture.

Meetings and exchanges of information took place between British and Bangladeshi officials in an effort to protect the UK from attacks that might be fomented in Bangladesh, according to sources in both countries.

The likelihood that a number of suspects would be tortured as a result of the meetings went unmentioned, according to the sources. Subsequently, more than a dozen men of dual British-Bangladeshi nationality were placed under investigation, and at least some suffered horrific abuse from the Bangladeshi authorities.

At one point Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, flew to Dhaka for face-to-face meetings with senior officials from one agency, the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), whose use of torture had been the subject of a detailed report by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO, less than eight weeks earlier. Seven months before the visit, a report prepared by Smith’s own department had documented the widespread concern about the routine use of torture in Bangladesh. Smith spoke publicly during the visit about the dangers that could be posed by dual nationals; privately, according to a senior DGFI counter-terrorism officer, she urged that the agency investigate a number of individuals about whom the British were suspicious.

In September it emerged that in recent years MI5 and MI6 have always asked the home secretary or foreign secretary for permission before conducting any information exchange where there was a risk of an individual being tortured. Smith, her successor Alan Johnson and David Miliband, the foreign secretary during the period of the joint UK-Bangladeshi counter-terrorism campaign, have declined to answer questions about the matter.