Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

MI5 denies cover-up over Binyam Mohamed torture affair

Jonathan Evans, director General of MI5
Jonathan Evans: Unprecedented rebuttal

The head of MI5 has denied officers withheld information over what it knew about the the torture of a UK resident.

In an unprecedented move, Jonathan Evans defended the security service against claims it misled MPs over the US's treatment of Binyam Mohamed.

The Court of Appeal earlier ruled that Mr Mohamed could learn what MI5 knew about his 2002 mistreatment while in secret detention in Pakistan.

The home secretary has attacked the media's "baseless" accusations.

Mr Evans's highly unusual decision to respond came amid a row over changes made to the Court of Appeal's judgement in the Binyam Mohamed case.

Following the judgement, it emerged that the leading lawyer for the government, Jonathan Sumption QC, had lobbied the judges to remove a paragraph from the draft judgement.

Our enemies will also seek to use all tools at their disposal to attack us ... That means not just bombs, bullets and aircraft but also propaganda
Jonathan Evans

The barrister said the paragraph was "exceptionally damaging" because it left the impression that MI5 did not have a culture of respecting human rights and did not object to "coercive interrogation techniques".

Mr Sumption told the judges he believed the words, written by Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, could be read to mean that MI5 had also misled the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The disputed paragraph does not appear in the final judgement - but Channel 4 News claimed on Thursday that it related to US documents concerning Mr Mohamed's treatment, which MI5 allegedly failed to disclose to the committee.

Strong defence

In an article published in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, Mr Evans said that his officers had never misled parliamentarians and operated within the law.

He said claims of a "culture of suppression" at the heart of the security service were "the precise opposite of the truth".

Binyam Mohamed
April 2002: Mistreated by US and Pakistani interrogators - arrested in Pakistan over visa irregularities and handed to US authorities as suspected terrorist
May 2002: Washington gives British security officials details of treatment - interviewed by MI5 officers sent from London
July 2002: Flown to Morocco and tortured for 18 months - says his interrogators received questions from London
January 2004: Transferred to Afghanistan and questioned by US agents
September 2004: Taken to Guantanamo Bay - lawyers demand British documents to prove confession extracted during abuse
October 2008: All charges against him dropped
February 2009: Returns to UK and continues fight for release of secret information
February 2010: UK Court of Appeal rules government must publish summary of what Washington told London about treatment in Pakistan - paragraph relating to MI5 shown to have been removed after lobbying from government lawyer

"People who choose to work in the service do so because they want to protect the UK and its liberties," wrote Mr Evans.

"We are an accountable public organisation and take our legal and oversight responsibilities seriously.

"The material our critics are drawing on to attack us is taken from our own records, not prised from us by some external process but willingly provided by us to the court, in the normal way. No cover-up there."

Adding his voice to the row, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said claims in some parts of the media that MI5 had orchestrated a cover-up were a "ludicrous lie".

"The security services in our country do not practice torture," he said.

"They do not endorse torture, they do not encourage others to torture on our behalf, they do not collude in torture, full stop.

"It's a free society, and that's actually what the security services are out there to protect. But occasionally they have to actually argue back. They can't allow that kind of misrepresentation to carry on un-thwarted."

But Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, which represents Binyam Mohamed, said: "It's incredibly offensive to suggest that the people who are bringing to light the ways in which the British intelligence service and US intelligence service have behaved badly could be responsible for giving succour to the enemy.

"The thing that gives succour to the enemy is the bad behaviour in the first place - and that's the reason we shouldn't be involved in torturing people."

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific