Sat, Aug 06, 2011 - Page 6 News List

British policy on torture revealed

The Guardian, LONDON

A top-secret document revealing how MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) and MI5 (the Security Service) officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas has been seen by Guardian.

The interrogation policy — details of which are believed to be too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition — instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer. It was operated by the British government for almost a decade.

A copy of the secret policy showed that senior intelligence officers and ministers feared the British public could be at greater risk of a terrorist attack if Islamists became aware of its existence.

One section states: “If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact of the agency seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed ... For instance, it is possible that in some circumstances such a revelation could result in further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism.”

The policy adds that such a disclosure “could result in damage to the reputation of the agencies,” and that this could undermine their effectiveness.

The fact that the interrogation policy document and other similar papers may not be made public during the inquiry into British complicity in torture and rendition has led to human rights groups and lawyers refusing to give evidence or attend any meetings with the inquiry team because it does not have “credibility or transparency.”

The decision by 10 groups — including Liberty, Reprieve and Amnesty International — follows the publication of the inquiry’s protocols, which show the final decision on whether material uncovered by the inquiry, led by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson, can be made public will rest with the Cabinet secretary.

The inquiry will begin after a police investigation into torture allegations has been completed.


Some have criticized the appointment of Gibson to head the inquiry because he previously served as the intelligence services commissioner, overseeing British government ministers’ use of a controversial power that permits them to “disapply” UK criminal and civil law in order to offer a degree of protection to British intelligence officers committing crimes overseas. The government denies there is a conflict of interest.

The protocols also state that former detainees and their lawyers will not be able to question intelligence officials and that all evidence from current or former members of the security and intelligence agencies, below the level of head, will be heard in private.

The document seen by the Guardian shows how the secret interrogation policy operated until it was rewritten on the orders of the coalition government in July last year.

It also acknowledged that MI5 and MI6 officers could be in breach of both UK and international law by asking for information from prisoners held by overseas agencies known to use torture.

Additionally, it explained the need to obtain political cover for any potentially criminal act by consulting ministers beforehand.

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