Ex-security minister: British intelligence might have known about CIA torture

Lord West of Spithead: There may have been the “odd case”

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British spies could have known that the CIA was torturing terrorist suspects, a former security minister has conceded, as the clamour grew for an independent inquiry into whether the UK turned a blind eye to abuse of detainees.

Lord West of Spithead said there may have been the “odd case” of British agents being aware of the brutal techniques employed by the US to elicit information from captives.

His admission came as MPs prepare to question Theresa May, the Home Secretary, over the disclosure that British ministers and officials met the American senators who helped to expose the brutal CIA techniques a total of 23 times - fuelling accusations that they pressed for the deletion of key passages detailing British complicity in torture and rendition.

The final report by the Senate intelligence committee did not contain a single reference to UK involvement in inhumane methods practised by the CIA between 2001 and 2007, despite repeated claims that Scottish airports and the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia were used as stopovers in rendition flights.

MPs are preparing to question Home Secretary Theresa May over the CIA report

Lord West became the first senior figure from the last Labour government to acknowledge that Britain could have known about the CIA’s inhumane treatment of captives. He told the BBC that 10 or 15 years ago it was not clear to British agents how they should react to evidence of such practices.

The ex-minister, who is also a former Chief of Defence Intelligence, said: “Looking back, if you are an agent embedded in some foreign country and this was going on, it was quite difficult for them to extricate themselves even though they weren’t implementing that torture.

“So I’m sure there may be the odd case where an agent was aware what the Americans were doing, but that has now been sealed off because they are very clear now what the position is.”


Separately, former senior CIA official Mike Scheuer told Prospect magazine: “MI6 and MI5 know of the worth of the programmes we ran. But they can’t say anything.”

“Does that mean that British agencies benefited from the product of those interrogations? All of the European countries did,” he said, “but certainly the British did indeed.”