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British spies allegedly complicit in CIA torture are subject to UK law, judges rule

Demonstrators dressed in Guantanamo Bay prisoner uniforms march past Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2020, during a rally on "No War with Iran." (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators dressed in Guantanamo Bay prisoner uniforms march past Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2020, [BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]

UK intelligence services who allegedly provided the CIA with questions to put to detainees being tortured at "black sites" are subject to the law of England and Wales and not that of the countries in which the prisoner was being held, British judges have ruled.

In a case that that could determine if victims of state torture have the right to sue the UK government in the courts of England and Wales, three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that Abu Zubaydah, who claims he was subjected to extreme mistreatment at secret CIA "black sites" in six countries, has the right to sue the UK government in British courts.

UK intelligence officers are thought to have been complicit in the torture for having sent numerous questions to the CIA, expecting that he would be subjected to mistreatment and torture during interrogation sessions conducted for the purpose of attempting to obtain information for British spies.

During yesterday's judgement, Lord Justice Males, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp unanimously concluded there were "strong connections connecting the tortious conduct with England and Wales".

Males said there was "unlikely to be any serious dispute" that Saudi born Palestinian national Zubaydah "was subject to treatment in those countries at the hands of the CIA which, in this jurisdiction, would be regarded as torture". The judge also noted that Zubaydah had no control – and likely no knowledge – over his location, and that his location was irrelevant to the UK intelligence services.

READ: CIA tortured 9/11 detainee as prop to teach interrogation techniques

Their judgement overturns last year's High Court ruling by Justice Lane that Zubaydah's torture was subject to the law of the countries where the CIA sites were located. The ruling was appealed.

Zubaydah was held by the US as a detainee in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. He claims that between 2002 and 2006 he "unlawfully" moved by US agents to the six different countries. In 2006 he was rendered again to Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held without trial ever since.

In each of the six countries, Zubaydah was arbitrarily detained at a CIA "black site", which became notorious during the "war on terror" for carrying out torture. They are secret detention facilities around the world, outside the US legal system, where there are no visits by international welfare organisations to monitor treatment and standards.

Zubaydah says that in each of these locations he was subjected to extreme mistreatment and torture. This included waterboarding on some 83 occasions, extreme sleep deprivation, confinement inside boxes (including boxes said to simulate a coffin and boxes which required him to adopt a stress position), beatings, death threats, starvation and denial of medical care. For extended periods he was kept naked or "diapered", with no access to sanitation facilities.

READ: New report sheds new light on CIA torture methods

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