Holding the secret services to account

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The Independent Online

The report released yesterday by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee looking into the actions of our intelligence services in the "war on terror" gives the impression that their behaviour has been largely exemplary. A few minor abuses are identified, but it is safe to say no one in MI5 or MI6 will lose any sleep over the committee's conclusions.

The report released yesterday by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee looking into the actions of our intelligence services in the "war on terror" gives the impression that their behaviour has been largely exemplary. A few minor abuses are identified, but it is safe to say no one in MI5 or MI6 will lose any sleep over the committee's conclusions.

The most serious abuse revealed is that, on two separate occasions, British agents questioned Iraqi detainees who had been hooded - a practice that breaches the Geneva Convention. Another fault is that our intelligence services did not keep government ministers informed when they were conducting interrogations of prisoners held by the US.

Yet, according to the report, there were fewer than 15 occasions in which agents reported "either actual or potential breaches of UK policy or international conventions". The recommendation from the committee is that the British Government should "seek agreement with allies on the methods and standards for the detention and interrogation of suspects held in future operations".

But this will not do. This report, limited as it is, raises serious questions that the committee appears to have ignored. It confirms, for instance, that British agents questioned prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. This would have been while our government was officially calling for the prompt release of any Britons held in Cuba. The report also reveals that there were British agents operating in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Is it really credible that they did not witness any of the abuses that we now know went on there?

There are also hints that the British secret services have accepted information derived through torture. The existence of unregistered US "ghost prisoners" in Iraq is confirmed. We are told these detainees have yielded intelligence of the "highest level". Tellingly, the committeeincluded a quote from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, arguing that it is impossible to ignore evidence gained through torture "if the price of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead".

We have a right to know what our secret services have been doing. This report does not answer our legitimate questions. The Intelligence and Security Committee has failed in its duty to hold the intelligence services to account.

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