By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 19, 2009
LONDON, March 18 -- The British government will publicly disclose for the first time the guidelines its intelligence officers use when interrogating suspects, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday.
Brown, in a written statement to the House of Commons, said the step was being taken to "protect the reputation of our security and intelligence services" and to demonstrate that Britain does not torture suspects.
"Torture has no place in a modern democratic society. We will not condone it. Nor will we ever ask others to do it on our behalf," he said.
Brown also announced that Peter Gibson, a former senior judge and intelligence services commissioner, would monitor whether the guidelines were being followed and report annually to the prime minister.
British resident Binyam Mohamed, who spent seven years in U.S. custody as a terrorism suspect but was released without charges last month, recently accused British intelligence officials of colluding in his torture.
Mohamed, who was held in Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, alleged in a newspaper interview that the British domestic intelligence agency, known as MI5, passed questions and information to Pakistani officials, who he said tortured him at the behest of United States.
Opposition politicians and human rights groups have called for investigations into Mohamed's claims, which U.S. and British officials have denied.
Interrogation guidelines used by MI5, along with the military and the international intelligence agency, MI6, will be published within the next two months. Brown said the disclosure would include rules governing the questioning of suspects detained overseas.
Brown said the information would be reviewed by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the intelligence agencies, before it is released.
On Tuesday, the committee sent Brown recommendations following its own review of issues raised by the Mohamed case. In a statement, the committee said those included "the policies that the U.K. security and intelligence agencies have followed and should follow." It did not elaborate.
A Brown spokesman, speaking on the condition of anonymity as is customary in Britain, said there was no link between Brown's announcement and the Mohamed case.
David Davis, a leading member of the opposition Conservative Party, called Brown's move "worthwhile" but said, "What is really needed is an entirely independent judicial inquiry into what happened between 2002 and 2007, and whether and to what extent British government agencies were complicit in torture."
Amnesty International said Brown's decision was "welcome" but "goes nowhere near far enough." Rights activists are demanding an inquiry into whether Britain cooperated with American "war on terror" policies such as the "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to countries that practice torture.
Reprieve, a rights group based in Britain that led Mohamed's legal defense, also called Brown's move "far from adequate," especially because oversight of the intelligence services would continue to come from the Intelligence and Security Committee.
"This is a textbook case of the fox guarding the henhouse," said Reprieve's executive director, Clare Algar. "The prime minister is trusting people who are deeply involved in the security services to check their conduct. It is ludicrous to suggest that this will restore public confidence."
She added: "The only way to restore credibility is to launch a full independent and transparent inquiry, which operates wholly apart from government interests."