MI5 agents at risk over legal guidance on interrogation

Britain's security and intelligence services face legal action over misleading guidance issued to agents involved in the detention and interrogation of suspects who are at the risk of torture. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to David Cameron and the heads of MI5 and MI6 expressing "serious concerns" about the lawfulness of the guidance which it says leaves agents exposed to claims of complicity in torture.

New guidance was published after British citizens and residents held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba alleged that MI5 and MI6 had been involved in their illegal detention and torture. In the most damaging case Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian refugee living in the UK, has given evidence to the High Court in London alleging that MI5 fed information to the CIA although senior officers knew that he was being tortured by a third party state.

The Commission says it will take legal action against the Government if the guidance is not changed to ensure that agents do not do anything to aid or abet a third party state where a suspect is at risk of torture.

Lawyers argue that the guidance does not do enough to protect officers in the field because it may leave them with the “erroneous expectation” that they will be protected from personal criminal liability in situations where they may, unwittingly, be liable for crimes committed and condoned by others. Three officers form MI5 and MI6 are already under investigation by the Metropolitan Police Force over allegations of complicity in toture.

According to the Commission the guidance suggests that an officer can work with a third party state provided the risks can be mitigated through “caveats or assurances” or if ministers have been consulted.

John Wadham, group director of the legal department, said: “The government has recognised that it needs to break with the past and begin a new era; one in which intelligence gathering is not contaminated by torture.” He added: “One positive effect of this new transparency is that the Commission has been able to consider the guidance and advise on its legality. The government now has the opportunity to bring its guidance within the law so that the intelligence service itself and its individual officers do not unwittingly leave themselves open to costly and time consuming court action.”

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the the guidance was lawful and that the Government did not condone torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. “We and in particular our personnel on the ground, work very hard to reduce the risks of detainees being subjected to mistreatment when they are held by other countries.”

He added: “We have established a clear framework for them to operate legally, proportionately and with respect for human rights. The guidance is consistent with domestic and international law. The guidance was drawn up with the cooperation and support of the security services and provides a framework for dealing with a range of circumstances in which personnel might have involvement with a detainee. It is clear about when not to proceed and how to escalate unclear situations to senior staff and ministers.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003