UK agents ‘knew about CIA torture’ - ex-spy chief

Admiral Lord West (left) says the government is very clear that British agents are not permitted to use torture. Picture: Getty
Admiral Lord West (left) says the government is very clear that British agents are not permitted to use torture. Picture: Getty
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THE torture of al-Qaeda suspects by the CIA during the war on terror was done with the knowledge of British agents, according to a former chief of defence ­intelligence.

Admiral Lord West said there may have been the “odd case” where those working for the security services were aware of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques being used by their American counterparts.

His comments came as calls grew for an inquiry into Scotland’s role in rendition flights used to transport suspects to secret prisons across the world.

Politicians and the human rights charity Reprieve are among those calling for a full public disclosure of what the Scottish authorities knew about the alleged use of the country’s airports following the publication earlier this week of a report on torture practices carried out by the US spy agency.

Lord West, a former Labour minister, said torture was “abhorrent” and was not used by the British because “we have to be whiter than white” in the battle against ­terrorists. He acknowledged it was possible individual agents in the field knew what US operatives were doing.

Lord West said that ten or 15 years ago it was not clear to British spies “as to exactly what their position was in regards to these things”.

He added: “That is now made very, very clear. It started to be made clear by the last government that they must not be involved at all or even around when this is going on.

“Looking back historically, if you are an agent embedded in some foreign country and this was going on, it was quite difficult for them to extricate themselves even though they weren’t implementing that torture. So I’m sure there may be the odd case where an agent was aware what the Americans were doing, but that has now been sealed off because they are very clear now what the position is.”

The former head of the Royal Navy insisted the British were not involved in torture: “These things are abhorrent. Our government is very clear, and the British are very clear, we do not use these techniques.

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“For a start, you can’t guarantee getting good intelligence from it. So we don’t use them, it’s wrong. We have to be whiter than white because we are fighting against people who don’t have any standards, who are willing to behead, kill, slaughter.

“We have to prove that we have standards of decency that put us apart from them.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has acknowledged a full judicial inquiry may still be required into allegations of British complicity in torture if police and parliamentary probes fail to answer key questions.

Police Scotland is investigating rendition flights after academic research last year claimed airports including Aberdeen, Inverness and Wick had been used as refuelling stops for rendition flights.

Earlier this week, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland asked police to assess the findings of a US Senate investigation, published on Tuesday, which found CIA tactics included sleep deprivation, slamming detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated and threatening them with death.

CIA director John Brennan was forced to defend the agency’s policy and field questions from the media on Thursday.

Angus MacNeil, MP for the Western Isles, said there was a need for a separate Scottish inquiry, adding that the rendition flights claims were “stomach churning”.

“The Scottish authorities have to march into this as well,” he said. “The long and short of it is that this is barbarism and Wick, Inverness and Aberdeen have at least been used to play a supporting role.”

Donald Campbell, head of communications at Reprieve, added: “The public deserves to know whether or not Scotland in any way assisted it, knowingly or otherwise.

“We already know that CIA jets which were used to ‘render’ people to countries where they could be tortured landed at Scottish airports. But we still don’t have the full picture, or an explanation of how this was allowed to happen.”

Last year, researchers at the universities of Kent and Kingston compiled what they said was an extensive database of rendition flights in Scotland. Five flights landed at Wick, five at Inverness and three at Aberdeen, according to the research.

Questions have been raised over whether the UK government sought to cover up “embarrassing information” about alleged British complicity.

Asked yesterday whether Britain had asked for details of UK activities to be redacted from the US report, a Number 10 spokeswoman said no redactions were sought.

On the subject of a Scottish inquiry to look at rendition, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is already an ongoing Police Scotland investigation, directed by the Lord Advocate, into the alleged use of Scottish airports for so-called rendition flights and that must be allowed to run its course.

“In terms of any material relating to rendition flights and any use of facilities in Scotland, the Scottish Government would welcome full disclosure of all information on that issue.”

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