Tuesday, August 11, 2009

British spy chief weighs into torture row

Morning Star Online, Monday 10 August 2009

by Paddy McGuffin

There has been "no torture and no complicity in torture" by the MI6, according to its head Sir John Scarlett

There has been “no torture and no complicity in torture” by the MI6, according to its head Sir John Scarlett

The government and MI6 head Sir John Scarlett have been accused of hiding behind ambiguities in their claims that British secret service agents were not complicit in torture.

Senior government figures and the spy chief have attempted to distance themselves from allegations of involvement in the torture of terror suspects in foreign countries.

The government currently faces a number of legal actions from torture victims who maintain that MI5 or MI6 agents were involved in their interrogation.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson wrote in a joint article for a national newspaper that there was no policy “to collude in, solicit or directly participate in abuses of prisoners” or to cover up alleged wrongdoing, although they added that it was not possible to “eradicate all risk.”

And in a highly unusual development, Mr Scarlett, who is usually content to remain in the shadows, emerged today in a bid to deflect criticism from MI6, stating that there was “no torture and no complicity in torture” by the British secret service.

He added that “our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else.”

But responding to the comments, a spokesman for legal action charity Reprieve, which represents a number of torture victims, accused the spy chief and the government of a deliberate cover-up.

He said: “Like our government, the head of MI6 John Scarlett is hiding behind general statements rather than addressing specific allegations. This is simply not good enough.

“Failure to report torture is a serious crime. We would expect any citizen mixed up in such a crime to face the courts and governments should do the same.

“In the High Court case of Binyam Mohamed, the UK government has attempted to evade court scrutiny at every turn and behave increasingly as if they are above the law.”

Scotland Yard is conducting a criminal investigation into claims that MI5 was complicit in the abuse of Mr Mohamed, a British resident who alleges that he was tortured while being held at sites in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan.

“The Foreign Secretary denies covering up evidence of involvement in torture. Why then is he refusing to release a summary, written by High Court judges and stripped of all security-sensitive information, of what happened to Binyam Mohamed?” demanded the spokesman.

Today also saw an influential Westminster committee demand that torture victims be granted the right to sue foreign states through the British legal system.

The joint committee on human rights, chaired by Labour MP Andrew Dismore, called on ministers to lift state immunity, rejecting government claims that the decision would breach international obligations.

The committee concluded: “The practical questions of foreign relations, enforcement and litigation procedure are important, but they are secondary to the issue we are examining, which is, should there be a civil remedy available in the UK to victims of torture at the hands of foreign states?

“We are of the strong opinion that there should.”

The committee has also called for a full public inquiry into the allegations, a demand which has been backed by campaign groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty.

A Number 10 spokesman rejected the demands.

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