UK facing questions over torture

UK facing questions over torture
Downing Street confirms that British intelligence officials asked for parts of the summary in the Senate CIA torture report to be redacted out of concern for 'national security' and not to cover up UK involvement.
4 min read
12 December, 2014
British ministers face questions about UK complicity in torture [AFP]

The British government is facing questions over whether it sought to cover up "embarrassing information" about alleged British complicity in torture after details emerged of meetings between UK ministers and officials and the US Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the CIA's abuse of detainees.

The UK authorties had previously denied that they had requested any redactions to the report, but a spokeswoman from the office of Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday said that British intelligence officials had asked for parts of the summary in the Senate report to be redacted. 

However she added that these requests were made out of concern for national security and were not meant to cover up any embarrassment arising out of allegations into the UK's involvement.  

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he would support an inquiry into whether British agents were complicit in CIA torture of terrorism suspects, if other investigations failed to uncover the truth. 

Clegg said that while he was sure British intelligence agents were not involved with torture now, allegations that spies had known about the mistreatment of detainees by U.S. authorities and others had to be fully examined. 

"I, like everybody else, want the truth out there," he told a LBC, a British commercial  radio station. "Torture cannot, will not, and is not being used under any circumstances by British agencies or indeed on our behest." 

Britain's foreign and domestic security services, known as MI6 and MI5, have for years been accused of colluding in the ill-treatment of suspected militants.

The heads of MI5 and MI6 have repeatedly said they would never use torture to gain information, and ministers have also denied knowledge of sending suspects to face torture abroad. 

However, an inquiry headed by retired senior judge Peter Gibson, set up by Cameron, concluded last year that British spies had known about the U.S. mistreatment of suspects.  His findings are being further examined by parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee. 

"Once the police investigations are done, once this report from the Intelligence and Security Committee is done, we should keep an open mind  about moving to a full judicial inquiry if there are any outstanding questions," Clegg said.

Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior member of the coalition government, said the "explosive" Senate report had shown torture had not kept the West safer and was detrimental to efforts in stopping recruits to Islamic State.

Cameron said this week the use of torture "was always wrong," but appeared to dismiss the need for a new inquiry, telling reporters that the issue "has been dealt with from the British perspective."

'A stain' on Amercia

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report, years in the making, accused the CIA of misleading its political masters about what it was doing with its "black site" captives, and deceiving Americans about the effectiveness of its techniques.  

Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic committee chairman whose staff prepared the summary, branded the findings a stain on U.S. history. 

"Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," she declared, commanding the Senate floor for an extended accounting of the techniques identified in the investigation.

But the "enhanced interrogation techniques" didn't produce the results that really mattered, the report asserts in its most controversial conclusion.

It cites CIA cables, emails and interview transcripts to rebut the central justification for torture that it thwarted terror plots and saved American lives.

Torture tactics

The report released Tuesday was the first public accounting of tactics employed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. 

Tactics included confinement to small boxes, weeks of sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, slapping and slamming, and threats to kill, harm or sexually abuse families of the captives.

President Barack Obama declared some of the past practices to be "brutal, and as I've said before, constituted torture in my mind. And that's not who we are," he told the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo in an interview.