Govt does not rule out torture risk
AFP – August 9, 2009
Senior ministers said Sunday they could not rule out that vital anti-terror information had been obtained through the torture of suspects abroad.
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 lawmakers warned the government that regularly using information gained through torture could be legally construed as complicity.
It comes as British intelligence agencies face allegations of involvement in the questioning of terror suspects in countries such as Pakistan, including supplying questions for interrogators.
"The UK firmly opposes torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This is not just about legal obligations. It is about our values as a nation," Miliband and Johnson wrote.
"But there are difficult judgments and hard choices, and they need to be better understood."
They said all the most serious plots and attacks in Britain had links abroad, so "intelligence from overseas is critical".
While the government could be sure how detainees held by British authorities had been treated, "we cannot have the same level of assurance when they are held by foreign governments, whose obligations may differ from our own."
They added: "Operations have been halted where the risk of mistreatment was too high. But it is not possible to eradicate all risk. Judgments need to be made."
They said there was no truth in suggestions that it was Britain's policy to "collude in, solicit, or directly participate in abuses of prisoners. Nor is it true that alleged wrong-doing is covered up."
In its annual human rights report, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) scrutiny body said it was "imperative" that the government fulfilled its legal obligations to prevent torture and probe alleged incidents.
"We further conclude that there is a risk that use of evidence which may have been obtained under torture on a regular basis, especially where it is not clear that protestations about mistreatment have elicited any change in behaviour by foreign intelligence services, could be construed as complicity in such behaviour," they said.
The committee acknowledged that using intelligence supplied by other countries which could avert a devastating terror attack but which may have been obtained through torture "raises profoundly difficult moral questions".
The government had a duty to use information, whatever its source, if it believed it could save lives, it said.
"At the same time, we strongly recommend that the government should continue to exert as much persuasion and pressure as possible to try to ensure world-wide that torture is not employed as a method of interrogation."
Tim Hancock, the British campaigns director of human rights organisation Amnesty International, said the report added weight to their call for a full, independent inquiry into alleged "war on terror" human rights abuses.
"However, it's deeply worrying that the FAC seems content for the UK authorities to receive and act upon information that may be fresh from the torture chamber," he said.
"Britain should stand firm in its opposition to torture, both through our words and our actions."
Last updated 11/08/2009