Default Torture claims: no British Government inquiryhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/news...t-inquiry.html
An inquiry into allegations of UK complicity in torture has been rejected by the Government, as Sir John Scarlett, head of MI6, said the service was committed to human rights.
By Caroline Gammell and Jon Swaine
Published: 12:58PM BST 10 Aug 2009
Sir John Scarlett insists secret service not complicit in torture
Sir John spent his career in MI6 before leaving in 2001 to head the Government's Joint Intelligence Committee Photo: REUTERS
A Downing Street spokesman said the Government had already said it would publish the guidance it issues on the interrogation of detainees held abroad once it has been revised.
"We do not support calls for an inquiry," the spokesman said. "We believe that an inquiry is not necessary."
He was speaking following an interview in which Sir John insisted the British secret service works on a basis of "no torture and no complicity in torture".
He told the BBC: "Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else."
His comments came as campaigners increased their calls for an independent inquiry into possible complicity in overseas torture after Alan Johnson and David Miliband admitted the Government could not guarantee that information used by the security services was not obtained through torture.
Mr Johnson, the Home Secretary, and Mr Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said it was "not possible to eradicate all risk" that foreign allies had mistreated terrorism suspects.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's programme MI6: A Century in Shadows, Sir John defended the actions of the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.
He said: "(Our officers) have the responsibility of protecting the country against terrorism and these issues need to be debated and understood in that context."
He also stressed that British intelligence services had not been compromised by close relationships with similar services in the US.
"Our American allies know that we are our own service, that we are here to work for the British interests and the United Kingdom," said Sir John.
"We're an independent service working to our own laws - nobody else's - and to our own values."
In a jointly written article published on Sunday, Mr Miliband and Mr Johnson said intelligence officers faced "hard choices" and that their overriding aim was to "defend both our citizens' rights and their security".
"Our position is clear," they wrote. "The UK firmly opposes torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
"When detainees are held by our police or Armed Forces we can be sure how they are treated. By definition, we cannot have that same level of assurance when they are held by foreign governments, whose obligations may differ from our own."
Their article came following several detailed allegations of British complicity in torture.
It has been claimed that questions for detainees to be asked under interrogation were provided by British intelligence officers.
Last week a committee of MPs and peers said that the Government had not properly investigated the claims and called for an independent inquiry.
Tom Porteous, a director of Human Rights Watch, said: "There are specific, detailed and consistent allegations... and they need to be answered.
"Government ministers are here issuing blanket denials but not addressing the specific allegations and so there really is a need for a judicial inquiry."
Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative MP who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, also called for a full inquiry.
"It is the only way to give the public confidence that we have got to the bottom of all of this, to draw a line under it and to move on."
Kim Howells, Labour chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee which scrutinises the secret services, said the issue of UK complicity in torture had been "clarified as far as it can be on the evidence that we have".
"I can tell you that we've found no evidence that there has been collusion between the intelligence services, any Government department and governments that torture their individuals," Mr Howells told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"My committee has been looking at this for a very long time now and we have never been denied evidence from any of the agencies, nor the Cabinet Office, nor any official in any Government department.
"So I'm very worried that these calls for judicial inquiries and so on are really treating the intelligence agencies as guilty until proven innocent and that's very, very dangerous for the security of this country."
Mr Howells said "no government on Earth" could guarantee that prisoners who had been picked up and held in another country had not had their human rights abused in some way.
But, he added: "If we don't have that information from other intelligence agencies, how can you be sure that there aren't jihadists who are trying to murder citizens on the street or Irish republicans who want to blow people to pieces in order to further their cause? You have no way of knowing that."
Fluent in French and Russian, Scarlett was educated at Epsom College and Magdalen College, Oxford where in 1971 he received a first class degree in history. Shortly afterward, he was recruited by MI6 and served in Moscow, Nairobi (1973-1976), and Paris. In 1994, after a tit-for-tat row between the UK and Russian authorities, Scarlett was asked to leave Moscow where he had been MI6's "station chief".
He retired from MI6 as Director of Security and Public Affairs in 2001. He took on the role of head of the JIC one week before the September 11 attacks.
The normally secretive intelligence services were thrust into the public gaze in the Summer of 2003 after the death of the eminent government weapons expert, Dr David Kelly. Kelly had been found dead in the Oxfordshire countryside near his home, after being exposed as the source of allegations that the government had "sexed-up" intelligence regarding existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The "classic case" was the claim that Iraq could launch Weapons of Mass Destruction "within 45 minutes of an order to do so" - Dr Kelly had privately dismissed this as "risible".