MI6 deny collusion in torture

By Liz Stephens

The head of MI6 categorically denied the secret service had colluded in torture today.

Sir John Scarlett said there had been “no torture” and “no complicity with torture”.

The denial comes after mounting concerns in recent weeks about the role of the intelligence services in alleged torture of terrorism suspects abroad.

The joint human rights committee recently stated there were now a “disturbing number of credible allegations” of British collusion in torture.

British citizens such as Binyam Mohamed have made allegations of rendition and abuse.

The committee said it was unable to rule out the involvement of British officers because ministers and security service chiefs refused to testify at parliamentary hearings on the claims. It has called for an independent inquiry.

However, a Downing Street spokesman said today that while the government had agreed to revise its guidance on the interrogation of detainees held abroad, it would not be holding an inquiry.

“We believe that an inquiry is not necessary,” he said.

The Metropolitan police are currently investigating the role of MI5 officers in Mr Mohamed’s case.

Sir John defended MI6 against the allegations. Speaking to the BBC he said: “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else.

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

He denied that British intelligence services had committed ethically dubious acts fuelled by their close relationship with 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.

“We’re an independent service working to our own laws – nobody else’s – and to our own values.”

Dr Kim Howells, Labour chairman of the intelligence and security committee, said: “We will look at any evidence that’s put before us, and there are court cases pending at the moment, and they go back mainly to a period around 9/11 when there was frantic activity around the world.

“But I can tell you that we found no evidence that there’s been collusion between the intelligence services, any government department and governments that torture their individuals.

“We can’t give a guarantee, and no government on earth can give a guarantee that somebody who’s picked up and held in another country hasn’t had their… human rights abused in some way.”

However, Shami Chakrabarti director of Liberty said: “What the government, and indeed the security establishment are sadly facing at the moment, and have been for some years, is a slow bleed of poisonous revelations”.

Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch said: “There are specific, detailed and consistent allegations… and they need to be answered.

“Government ministers are here issuing blanket denials but not addressing the specific allegations and so there really is a need for a judicial inquiry.”

And Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: “Sir John Scarlett’s comments suggest he has nothing to fear from a public inquiry.

“Ministers must realise that it is in Britain’s national interest to give our secret services a clean bill of health, which is why a public inquiry remains so essential.

“Unless ministers agree to hold a public inquiry now there will continue to be the suspicion that they’re involved in a cover-up for the Blair years.”

Former shadow home secretary David Davis invoked parliamentary privilege in the Commons recently to bring to light potential evidence of collusion which was previously not in the public domain.