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Britain turns to 'torture evidence'

The Australian | August 3 2005

BRITAIN is asking the CIA to interrogate its terror suspects, held at a network of secret detention centres, to help to identify the planners behind the London bombings.

Investigators need to discover who first came up with the plan for suicide attacks on London's transport system and whether more bombings are imminent.

For that information, Britain's security agencies have turned to their US counterparts and the most closely guarded captives on Earth. Some of al-Qa'ida's most notorious figures are being interrogated in underground jails or on warships beyond the reach of US or international law.

Evidence from these so called "ghost prisoners" has reportedly helped thwart terror attacks in Britain and investigators believe that some of those in CIA hands may have crucial information about events in London.

One target is al-Qa'ida operations commander Abu Faraj al-Liby, who has not been seen since a photograph of his bruised and bloodied face was shown after he was seized in Pakistan in May last year and handed over to the US. Two months earlier, he had orchestrated a terror meeting in a remote corner of Pakistan to plot future attacks.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said Britain cannot ignore intelligence from prisoners who civil liberty groups complain have been subjected to torture. Human rights groups and the Red Cross have condemned the use of secret jails, while the UN says it will investigate the US's abuse of its "high-value" detainees, who have not been seen or heard of since their capture.

A senior officer close to the London investigation said: "We obviously need to know what threat remains and we are asking all our international allies for help, even if the standards of their interrogation methods are not as scrupulous as our own. Needs must, I fear."

Amnesty International says Britain should not be using this kind of intelligence. British media director Mike Blakemore said: "Illegal detention is the slippery slope to torture and it is vital that the London bombings investigation does not make use of torture evidence." Human Rights First has compiled a dossier on 24 of the secret centres and has claimed the CIA operates its own airline to move terror suspects around the world.

US President George W.Bush says he does not know where these prisoners are being held but insists that lives have been saved, including many in Britain, because of information obtained from al-Qa'ida figures in custody.

The men are held for years in solitary confinement and allowed no contact with family or the Red Cross. One centre is known as "the pit" because suspects spend their entire time underground.

There is said to be a torture centre on the island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, where two navy prison ships ferry suspects in and out. The CIA reportedly has other sites in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan and Iraq. Suspects who are not so important to the CIA are moved to jails in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, all countries with records of practising torture. The US describes this as "rendition". The White House says these "unlawful combatants" in the war on terror are not covered by the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, which prohibits "violence to life and person, cruel treatment and torture". The International Red Cross has a list of 36 individuals the US admits it is holding but will not say where.

The appeal to the CIA comes as British police continue to track the worldwide money trail behind the London bombers. They are also investigating the hundreds of telephone calls the bombers made before the attacks.

Agencies are studying a series of disturbing communications from Britain to well-known al-Qa'ida terrorists sheltering in Saudi Arabia to see if it leads to another terror cell in Britain.

The messages from Saudi Arabia include transfers of cash to Britain. At least one of the failed July 21 bombers spent time in Saudi Arabia.

The flight of Osman Hussain, the suspected failed bomber also known as Hamdi Adus Issac, to join his brother in Rome has led to revelations in Italy about his family's alleged al-Qa'ida links.

Anti-terror detectives in Rome disclosed on Monday how his brother, Remzi Hussain, was already under scrutiny in relation to al-Qa'ida's financial network.

In London, there were protests yesterday against the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which bans protests within an area around parliament without prior permission.

Lauren Booth, the step-sister of Cherie Booth, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, was among the protesters.


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