Tue, Aug 11, 2009 - Page 6 News List

MI6 not involved in torture, British spy chief claims


The head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service (MI6) said yesterday his agents were not involved in torture, amid allegations of British links to mistreatment of terror suspects held overseas.

The head of MI6, John Scarlett, said his officers were committed to human rights and democracy as they protected Britain against terrorism threats.

“Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” Sir John told BBC’s Radio 4 in comments posted on its Web site Monday.

“They also have the responsibility of protecting the country against terrorism and these issues need to be debated and understood in that context,” he said.

He said there has been “no torture and there is no complicity with torture.”

His comments come as British intelligence agencies face allegations of involvement in the questioning of terror suspects in countries such as Pakistan, including supplying questions for other interrogators.

Two senior British ministers said on Sunday they could not rule out that vital anti-terror information had been obtained through the torture of suspects abroad.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson strongly denied allegations of British collusion in the abuse of terror suspects overseas.

However, it was impossible to eradicate all risk, they wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, as a panel of members of parliament warned the government that using information gained through torture could be legally construed as complicity.

Calls have been growing for an independent inquiry into British knowledge of the use of torture on suspects held overseas.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured during six and a half years in US custody or countries in its so-called rendition program of suspected extremists.

The British resident was released in February without charges and police here last month launched a criminal probe into his claims that agents from Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 were linked to his torture.

He claims an MI5 agent provided questions that he was asked by interrogators who tortured him at a secret site in Morocco following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights this month urged an independent inquiry, saying it was the only way of restoring public confidence in MI5 and MI6 in the wake of such “extremely serious” allegations.

Scarlett denied that British intelligence services had been compromised by their close relationship with counterparts in the US.

“Our American allies know that we are our own service, that we are here to work for the British interests and the United Kingdom,” he told the BBC’s program MI6: A Century in Shadows to be broadcast yesterday.

“We’re an independent service working to our own laws — nobody else’s — and to our own values,” he said.

Scarlett will step down as the head of MI6 in November.

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