Home > Government, Middle East, The Politics of War > Torture UK: why Britain has blood on its hands.

Torture UK: why Britain has blood on its hands.

By   19th October 2012.

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Military personnel escort detainees to a US interrogation centre at at Kandahar airport, Afghanistan.
When the US and its allies went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, it was inevitable that a small number of those captured on the battlefield would be British. For more than a decade, MI5 had been aware that British Muslims had been travelling to Pakistan and Afghanistan in what it saw as a form of jihadi tourism that posed no threat to the UK. All that changed after 9/11.

Among the Britons who were picked up in the wake of the attacks was a man called Jamal al-Harith. Born Ronald Fiddler in Manchester in 1966, Harith had converted to Islam in his 20s and travelled widely in the Muslim world before arriving in Afghanistan. After 9/11, he had been imprisoned by the Taliban, who suspected him of being a British spy. At one point he and several other prisoners were forced to share their large cell with a horse that had offended a local Taliban leader in some ill-defined way. A British journalist found Harith languishing in the prison in January 2002 and alerted British diplomats in Kabul, believing they would arrange his repatriation. Instead, they arranged for him to be detained by US forces, who took him straight to an interrogation centre at Kandahar.

Harith then spent two years at Guantánamo, being kicked, punched, slapped, shackled in painful positions, subjected to extreme temperatures and deprived of sleep. He was refused adequate water supplies and fed on food with date markings 10 or 12 years old. On one occasion, he says, he was chained and severely beaten for refusing an injection. He estimates he was interrogated about 80 times, usually by Americans but sometimes by British intelligence officers.

Nine months after his release, Harith issued a statement in which he said he was still in pain as a result of the beatings he received before interrogation. “The irony is that when I was first told in Afghanistan that I would be in the custody of the Americans, I was relieved. I thought that I would then be properly dealt with and returned home without much delay.”

• This is an edited extract from Cruel Britannia: A Secret History Of Torture, by Ian Cobain, published next month by Portobello Books at £18.99. To order a copy for £15.19, with free UK mainland p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.
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