Thursday, 4 March 2010

Binyam torture: Now Blunkett and Straw facing questions over role of MI5

By Jason Lewis, Security Editor

THE Government is facing new questions over whether Cabinet Ministers sanctioned MI5's involvement in the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed.

MI5 must seek permission from a Secretary of State for involvement in activities abroad which would be illegal in Britain. And now Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne is demanding to know if then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw or Home Secretary David Blunkett gave approval. Writing to current Home Secretary Alan Johnson, he said: 'The implications are most serious. If authorisation was given, then Blunkett or Straw approved criminal activity contrary to our public policy against torture. If it was not, the Security Service has proved to be out of political control. Which is it?' An MI5 officer known as Witness B who interviewed Mr Mohamed, 31, at Guantanamo Bay is facing a criminal investigation into alleged complicity in torture.

Recently released documents show the Ethiopian-born UK resident was subjected to sleep deprivation and other 'torture' techniques, and that MI5 knew of his treatment.

The Intelligence Services Act 1994, which governs MI5's activities, says: 'If a person would be liable in the UK for any act done outside the British Islands, he shall not be so liable if the act is one which is authorised by the Secretary of State.' Last week one of the country's most senior judges, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, restored a paragraph he had previously edited from a judgment in order to criticise MI5's role in Mr Mohamed's treatment.

He said the Security Services claimed they 'operated a culture that respected human rights' and 'denied they knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by the US Government'.

He added: 'In this case that does not appear to have been true...some officials appear to have a dubious record relating to involvement ... with the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials.' The judge said he particularly had in mind Witness B, who had appeared in the case in which Mr Mohamed's lawyers were trying to get him freed, prior to his eventual release in February last year.

The MI5 officer stopped giving evidence in case he incriminated himself. He is now the subject of a criminal inquiry but Lord Neuberger added: 'The evidence suggests there were other [officers].'

'Implications are serious'