The Government risked a diplomatic row with the United Nations when it attacked a report accusing Britain of complicity in the rendition and unlawful detention of terror suspects.
A year-long inquiry by United Nations investigators found security and intelligence service officers were frequently present during the interrogation of British citizens and residents who had been kidnapped by foreign states.
The report by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that Britain also received intelligence or provided questions for interrogators in the cases of several named detainees.
These included former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, as well as several individuals held in Pakistan, allegedly with British involvement.
In one case, Azhar Khan, a UK national, was arrested in Cairo in 2008, and while being mistreated in an Egyptian jail was asked “questions relating to the United Kingdom including his previous arrests and his private life”, said the report. It noted that Mr Khan had previously been arrested in 2004 and subsequently claimed that MI5 had repeatedly asked him to work for them.
But the Foreign Office issued a robust statement rejecting all the allegations and accusing the authors of acting “irresponsibly” by making “unsubstantiated” allegations.
The Foreign Office said: “The report contains no new information and repeats unproven allegations as if they were fact…….The most galling aspect of the report is that despite being asked in successive meetings with officials to substantiate their claims and provide us with information which would allow us to investigate the allegations, no significant information was provided.”
The investigation comprised four independent UN bodies working together to interview victims of secret detention all over the world.
Tonight Reprieve, the human rights charity, rejected the Government's criticism of the report saying that the findings make uncomfortable reading for states like the UK who are revealed as complicit in war crimes like kidnap, secret detention, and torture.
Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's director, said: “Sadly, our government has teamed up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people, using information extracted by violence, keeping secrets and protecting their thugs and cronies. It is shameful that it takes a UN report to reveal these shoddy practices to the British people. The victims are still waiting for an apology. “
David Davis MP, who raised the issue in Parliament, said the report was a “searing indictment” of the UK Government's involvement in torture and secret detention that needed to be urgently investigated.
He added: “It is the Foreign Office who are being “irresponsible” in refusing this investigation. Their claims of “no new information” are simply dishonest given what they know from the in camera records of the trials of some of the people who have been subjected to torture by foreign powers with clear UK complicity”
The report suggested that the UK intelligence services lack the oversight that would prevent crimes like complicity in torture from recurring. It recommends that “To ensure accountability in intelligence co-operation, truly independent intelligence review and oversight mechanisms should be established… such mechanisms should have access to any information, including sensitive information…” The authors also warn of the dangers of intelligence services keeping secrets from the bodies that are charged with policing them; precisely this befell the UK, leading to the ISC's 'independent' report on Rendition containing multiple, serious and embarrassing errors.
In its statement the Foreign Office statement said: “The UK's position on secret detention is clear: we oppose any deprivation of liberty that amounts to placing individuals beyond the protection of the law.
“There is no truth to the suggestions that the security and intelligence services in the UK operate without control or oversight. There is no truth in the suggestion that it is our policy to collude, solicit or participate in abuses of prisoners. Nor is it true that wrongdoing is covered up.”