Role of British Intelligence in Alleged Torture To Be Examined

Binyam Mohamed says he was subjected to torture by U.S. authorities and others acting on U.S. instructions.
Binyam Mohamed says he was subjected to torture by U.S. authorities and others acting on U.S. instructions. (AP)
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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 27, 2009

LONDON, March 26 -- The British government has asked police to investigate whether British intelligence officers colluded in the alleged torture of a British resident who was held in U.S. custody for seven years.

Attorney General Patricia Scotland on Thursday referred the case of Binyam Mohamed, 30, to Scotland Yard, asking police to investigate "as expeditiously as possible given the seriousness and sensitivity of the issues involved."

British analysts said it was rare, if not unprecedented, for police to investigate the intelligence agency with which police work closely every day.

Mohamed, an Ethiopian native who moved to Britain as a teenager, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and turned over to U.S. authorities a few months later. Mohamed said he was then held in Morocco and Afghanistan and subjected to torture by American authorities and others acting on U.S. instructions. He was moved to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2004.

After his release without charge last month, Mohamed alleged that an agent from MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency, supplied questions and documents to Pakistani officials who tortured him in 2002.

U.S. and British officials have denied Mohamed's allegations. British officials referred his case to the attorney general last fall under growing political pressure to prove repeated government assertions that Britain had not participated in "extraordinary rendition" or torture.

In a statement issued by his lawyers Thursday, Mohamed, who is in seclusion in Britain, said he did not want the blame to fall solely on the MI5 agent, known as Witness B in court documents.

"I am very pleased that an investigation is taking place," Mohamed said. "I feel very strongly that we shouldn't scapegoat the little people. We certainly shouldn't blame 'Witness B' -- he was only following orders."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in Brazil, praised British intelligence services for doing "an amazing and courageous job" of fighting terrorism but said he supported the investigation.

"I have always made clear that when serious allegations are made they have got to be investigated," Brown said. "I have also been clear that this government does not tolerate or endorse torture."

Opposition lawmakers and human rights activists have called for an independent judicial inquiry into Britain's actions during the "war on terror" in recent years.

Edward Davey, a member of Parliament and spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, welcomed Thursday's announcement, saying, "These are incredibly serious allegations of complicity in barbaric acts of torture and breaches of international law."

But he added that "only a fully independent judicial inquiry can get to the bottom of this and ensure that trust in government and international respect for Britain is restored."


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