dec 272013
 

British intelligence officers were told to ignore evidence of breaches of the Geneva convention when detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan were being interrogated in 2002, a report by the aborted inquiry into alleged British complicity in torture has found.
The inquiry was axed earlier this year after fresh criminal investigations were launched into allegations involving Libyan victims Photo: EPA

British intelligence officers were told to ignore evidence of breaches of the Geneva convention when detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan were being interrogated in 2002, a report by the aborted inquiry into alleged British complicity in torture has found.

The orders from MI6’s head quarters to intelligence officers came as Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, was telling MPs that anyone who is captured “should be treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Convention”.

The report published by Sir Peter Gibson disclosed that in 2002 spies working for MI6 overseas were told to turn a “blind eye” to any evidence they witnessed of breaches of the Convention, which sets out how prisoners should be treated.

Documents uncovered by the inquiry showed that “officers were advised that, faced with apparent breaches of Geneva Convention standards, there was no obligation to intervene”, the report said.

“Officers were also advised that such conduct should only be raised with the detaining authority ‘if circumstances allow’. Officers were not advised to cease any interview immediately if they felt that the detainee was not being treated in accordance with the appropriate standards.”
Related Articles
Government ‘risks accusations of burying bad news by publishing Gibson on day of Woolwich verdicts’ 19 Dec 2013
Britain pays out £2m to illegal rendition Libyan 13 Dec 2012
Gibson torture inquiry abandoned 18 Jan 2012
Ken Clarke abandons Gibson torture inquiry 18 Jan 2012
MI5 and MI6 in the clear over allegations of torture in Pakistan 12 Jan 2012
MI6 spies died in battle against al-Qaeda, Hague to say 16 Nov 2011

Mr Blair had told MPs on January 16, 2002 : “I totally agree that anybody who is captured by American troops, British troops or anyone else should be treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Convention and proper international norms.”

Yet two days later, Mr Blair wrote on the bottom of a Number 10 note about detainees in Guantanamo: “The key is to find out how they are being treated.

“Though I was initially sceptical about claims of torture, we must make clear to the US that any such action wd be totally unacceptable & v. quickly establish that it isn’t happening” [sic].

The partly-redacted report recommended 27 areas which should be examined further, adding that it “would also want to put on its recognition of the extreme harshness of the conditions and the treatment experienced by the detainees”.

One area it wanted to examine was whether “UK officers may have turned a blind eye to the use of specific, inappropriate techniques or threats used by others and used this to their advantage when resuming an interview session with a now compliant detainee”.

The inquiry was axed earlier this year after fresh criminal investigations were launched into allegations involving Libyan victims. The report also found that Britain “may have become inappropriately” involved in some cases of rendition of suspected terrorists.

The heads of both MI5 and MI6 have been asked to give their responses to MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is investigating the claims, by February.

Ken Clarke, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of the inquiry, said the report “finds no evidence in the documents to support any allegation that UK intelligence officers were directly responsible for the mistreatment of detainees held by other countries overseas”.

He added that it was important when considering the report to bear in mind it was a period “when we and our international partners were suddenly adapting to a completely new scale and type of threat from fundamentalist religious extremists.

Mr Clarke said: “It is now clear that our agencies and their staff were in some respects not prepared for the extreme demands suddenly placed on them.”

He said: “There is some damage to our reputation which prides itself as a beacon of justice, human rights and the rule of law. If failures and mistakes were made in this period that is a matter of sincere regret.”

Jack Straw, who was Labour foreign secretary at the time, flatly denied that he knowingly facilitated the torture of British citizens by US authorities, even though he authorised their transfer to Guantanamo Bay.

By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
4:34PM GMT 19 Dec 2013

Find this story at 19 December 2013

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013