Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Fresh legal challenge over MI5 torture guidance

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Thames House, MI5's headquarters in London
MI5: Updated guidance will be published says PM

The government is facing fresh legal action over secret guidance on torture given to intelligence officers interviewing detainees abroad.

Legal charity Reprieve, which represents several former Guantanamo Bay detainees, wants the advice for MI5 and MI6 officers to be published.

It says the guidelines condone complicity in torture.

Ministers say the guidance was lawful but has been superseded by new rules, which will soon be published.

'Compelling evidence'

Reprieve said it was in the process of issuing legal proceedings against the prime minister, home secretary, foreign secretary, defence secretary and attorney general.

The application for a judicial review alleges there is "compelling evidence" that "UK intelligence personnel have been engaged in activities amounting to complicity in torture and that the inevitable inference is that such activities have been in conformity with unlawful promulgated policies and guidance" since at least 2002.

Richard Stein, partner at Leigh Day & Co, which is issuing the proceedings on behalf of Reprieve, said the allegation was that the UK was "complicit" by working alongside authorities which did use torture.

Mr Stein said: "The case is to challenge the legality of the policy that currently exists in relation to the way that British agents should relate to other states and other states' agents when they are involved in interrogating, torturing, rendering people around the world, as we know happens."

He added: "The torturer is inside the room torturing the person and the British agents are outside passing bits of information and questions under the door. That, Reprieve considers, is unlawful."

Secret guidance

The government is already under pressure over what the intelligence and security services knew of the US treatment of some detainees.

Earlier this month, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed won a major legal victory when the Court of Appeal ordered the government to publish what intelligence officers knew about the Ethiopian-born man's mistreatment in Pakistan in 2002.

US interrogators deprived Mr Mohamed of sleep, shackled him and threatened that he would be "disappeared".

We did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf
Jonathan Evans, MI5

He was later interviewed by an MI5 officer - but then secretly moved by the CIA to Morocco where the US courts say he was tortured.

He and six other men are already suing the government saying it was complicit in their alleged mistreatment.

Now the legal charity involved in the cases says it will try to force the government to publish the secret guidance given to officers over the last eight years.

Last year Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged to publish the new guidance to intelligence officers on detention and on interviews with detainees overseas to show that the security services opposed torture. But that new guidance has still not been published.

The guidance was originally issued in 2002 and then expanded two years later. Neither of these two documents has been published.

The fresh guidance is currently with the Intelligence and Security Committee, which answers to the prime minister.

Unprecedented article

Clive Stafford-Smith, of Reprieve, said that the government was not answering critical questions about the evidence of alleged complicity in torture overseas.

The campaign group said "diverse examples" would be used to support the legal action.

"Advice given to agents cannot sensibly be deemed 'classified', as disclosing legal advice hardly betrays a national secret," said Mr Stafford-Smith.

"Rather, depending on what the policy was, it exposes those who sanctioned the advice to immense embarrassment.

"Equally, it cannot take a year to come up with new advice - we could have written it for them in an afternoon."

Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, wrote an unprecedented article to a national newspaper following the Binyam Mohamed ruling.

The article said the Intelligence and Security Committee had already found that the security service had been slow to react to the US's mistreatment of detainees after 9/11.

He added: "We did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf."

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