British anti-torture activists against evidence obtained abroad

Human rights activists launched a legal challenge Monday over whether evidence obtained abroad through torture can be used in British courts. Appeals court judges ruled last year that evidence obtained by foreign intelligence agents could be used as long as British authorities were not involved. The court ruled by a 2-1 majority that there was no obligation on the British government to inquire about how such evidence had been obtained.

A coalition of legal, human rights and anti-torture organizations is challenging that ruling in Britain's highest court, the House of Lords.

"The Court of Appeal ruling sets a dangerous precedent which we believe contravenes the U.K.'s international obligations and international law," said Kevin Martin, president of the Law Society. "The use of torture is draconian and abhorrent. If this ruling is not overturned, we are worried it will prove to be a green light for torturers."

The case was originally brought by lawyers for 10 foreign terror suspects held without trial under British anti-terror legislation passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Lawyers for the men argued that they had been held on evidence obtained through the torture of suspects at U.S. military detention camps such as the one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, according to the AP.

Two of the men were allowed to return to their home countries and the other eight were released last year after judges ruled their indefinite detention contravened their human rights. They were subsequently placed under house arrest under new legislation and are now awaiting deportation.

Lawyer Ben Emmerson, who is representing the eight men, said Britain currently exchanged information with states that have a history of practicing torture.

"The central issue in this appeal is whether, and how, the courts will ensure that in an era of global co-operation the integrity of the judicial process is not compromised through the introduction of evidence which has been obtained by other states in breach of the universal prohibition on torture," he argued.

The hearing is likely to last several weeks.


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