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UK spy agency MI6 'not complicit in torture'

BRITAIN'S foreign intelligence agency said today it was not complicit in torturing terrorism suspects overseas, backing government denials.

John Scarlett, head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, told BBC radio there was "no torture, and there is no complicity with torture".

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Interior Minister Alan Johnson defended Britain's intelligence links with countries where detainees are at risk of torture or other abuse.

Their comments came after a report by lawmakers expressed concern about cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies.

"Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else," Scarlett said.

"They also have responsibility of protecting the country against terrorism, and these issues need to be debated and understood in that context."

Scarlett, due to stand down in November after heading the service since 2004, said Britain's closest ally, the United States, was aware of its standards.

"Our American allies know that we are our own service, working to our own laws, nobody else's, and to our own values."

The foreign and interior ministers, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said all the most serious plots and attacks in Britain in the past decade have had significant links abroad.

"Our agencies must work with their equivalents overseas. So we have to work hard to ensure that we do not collude in torture or mistreatment," they said.

Britain has been at heightened risk of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. On July 7, 2005, suicide bombers said to have received training in Pakistan killed 52 passengers on London's transport system.

Britain has intensified foreign intelligence efforts since then, but rights groups have criticised it for not pressing more effectively against ill-treatment of detainees held by allies.


Lawmakers on the foreign affairs committee of Britain's lower house of parliament singled out Britain's close links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) as a special worry, in a report issued yesterday.

"We are very concerned by allegations that the nature of the relationship UK officials have with the ISI may have led them to be complicit in torture," the legislators said in their cross-party human rights report.

Continuing to use information from foreign intelligence agencies that had ignored past British requests to stop torturing suspects could constitute collusion in the torture itself, the lawmakers warned the government.

Attorney General Patricia Scotland said in March there were sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation into allegations by Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian resident in Britain, that MI5 intelligence officers were complicit in his torture in Morocco before he was sent to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The foreign affairs committee report follows a similar one from parliament's human rights committee on Aug. 4, which called for a full independent inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture.


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