Straw: Britain cannot ignore evidence obtained by torture

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Britain cannot ignore the intelligence gained by America from prisoners who were tortured, Jack Straw has told a committee of MPs.

Britain cannot ignore the intelligence gained by America from prisoners who were tortured, Jack Straw has told a committee of MPs.

The Foreign Secretary said torture was "completely unacceptable" to the Government but, in a letter to senior MPs investigating prisoner abuse, Mr Straw said Britain faced a "moral hazard" over using US intelligence gained from prisoners who may have been abused.

The MPs - members of the Prime Minister's special Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)- said British intelligence officers involved in interrogating prisoners were not properly trained on their obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

They found that officers from the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, were twice involved in questioning Iraqi detainees who were hooded in breach of the conventions and UK rules.

The ISC was told Britain's anti-terrorist forces had prevented attacks by using intelligence gained from so-called "ghost prisoners" held by the US in breach of the Geneva Conventions. The "ghost prisoners" are held at undisclosed locations, under unknown conditions with no access by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Security Service, MI5, told the MPs: "We have received intelligence of the highest value from detainees to whom we have not had access and whose location is unknown to us, some of which has led to the frustration of terrorist attacks in the UK or against UK interests."

Mr Straw wrote to the committee: "Just in terms of moral calculus, [what] if we had been told through liaison partners that 11 September was going to happen with all the details. Now torture is completely unacceptable and [we would] query whether that was the reason why we got the information ... but you cannot ignore it if the price of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead."

The Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by the former cabinet minister Ann Taylor, found that, when concerns were raised by UK intelligence officers about the treatment of prisoners by the Americans, they were not properly followed up with the US authorities.

It said that there was a failure to keep ministers properly informed about the interrogations and the concerns that had been raised with the US.

Overall, the committee said UK intelligence personnel from MI6, MI5 and the Defence Intelligence Staff conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews of prisoners held in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. It found that there were "fewer than 15 occasions" in which they reported either actual or potential breaches of UK policy or the international conventions relating todetainees.

The MPs said there should be better training of intelligence officers about international conventions and UK policy on treatment of prisoners.

One intelligence officer who encountered ill-treatment of prisoners by the US reported back to his superiors in London about the abuse in 2002. The SIS responded by issuing a warning to its officers that they could face criminal action in the UK, if they breached the Geneva Conventions but they did not order officers to raise the complaints with local US commanders.

"These instructions did not go far enough," said the committee of MPs. "They should have required the SIS officer to report his concerns to the senior US official."

* UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has urged governments to respect human rights and the rule of law in the fight against terrorism. His comments came as he proposed the creation of a treaty outlawing terrorism.