New UK torture guidelines breach human rights, watchdog warns

LONDON: Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned Monday that new guidance for UK security agents and service personnel on how to deal with suspects facing torture overseas may breach domestic and international law. As a result, officers may wrongly believe they were ‘protected’ from court action, the watchdog said in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and to the heads of MI5 and MI6.

The letter, presented as a formal warning before taking legal action, pressed ‘serious concerns’ about the guidance and suggested how it believed it could be altered to comply with UK and international law. The guidelines were published in July as part of the coalition government’s attempts to draw a line under the controversy over counter-terrorism practices associated with the US-led war on terrorism.

‘The government has recognised that it needs to break with the past and begin a new era; one in which intelligence gathering is not contaminated by torture,” said EHRC legal director John Wadham. “The Commission has been able to consider the guidance and advise on its legality. The government now has the opportunity to bring its guidance within the law so that the intelligence service itself and its individual officers do not unwittingly leave themselves open to costly and time-consuming court action,’ Wadham warned.

Lawyers representing more than 100 civilians detained and allegedly tortured by British forces in Iraq have already threatened legal action because the new guidance fails to outlaw one specific practice – hooding. The previous Labor government repeatedly declined to publish the guidance, with former foreign secretary David Miliband suggesting that to have done so would ‘give succour to our enemies.’

It has been reported that during his three years as foreign secretary, Miliband gave MI6 the green light to proceed with intelligence-gathering operations despite a possible risk that they could lead to terrorism suspects being tortured. NNI

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Noreen Gill

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