Home Secretary Theresa May has insisted she did not request any redactions to a US report that exposed brutal CIA interrogation methods in a bid to cover up any UK involvement.
She did concede officials had requested no evidence was included in the US Senate intelligence committee’s report that would damage national security.
But she yesterday told the home affairs select committee at Westminster she could not speak for previous governments.
Her appearance before the committee came as the UK government faces cross-party calls for a new judicial inquiry into Britain’s possible role in the treatment of detainees in the years after the 9/11 attacks. Committee chair Keith Vaz said he would be asking Democrat senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the American committee that published the CIA torture report, to give evidence next year.
The report from the US Senate intelligence committee said the interrogation of detainees in the wake of 9/11 was “far worse” than the CIA had portrayed to the US government.
Waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings’’ and agency staff subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration’’ – forced feeding through the anus – and other painful procedures that were never approved.
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The Home Secretary said she had not read the full 6,000-page report and had seen only the 500-page summary made publicly available. “I have certainly not asked for any redactions to take place in the report,” she said. “The only time I met Senator Feinstein was in September of this year and I’ve not seen the draft report, I’ve not asked for any redactions in that report. We discussed other things.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of Westminster’s intelligence and security committee (ISC), has said he and his colleagues would look into questions of UK complicity in torture “without fear or favour’’ and call witnesses – possibly including former prime minister Tony Blair.
Asked if she thought a judge-led inquiry was appropriate, Mrs May said: “The process we’ve seen undertaken in the US is of course a Senate inquiry. The equivalent committee here in the UK, the committee of parliament, is the ISC.
“Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been very clear that committee will be undertaking their inquiries into these matters. As far as I’m concerned, the security and intelligence agencies will be co-operating fully with that inquiry.”
She said British security and intelligence staff would not wish to be “tainted” by suggestions of involvement in torture. “We all believe torture is abhorrent and is wrong,” she said.
Julian Huppert MP took issue with guidance issued by the government to intelligence officers on how to deal with detainees overseas. It says operatives can proceed if there is a “lower than serious risk of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. He said the wording was not clear enough and implied the threshold was “chosen carefully”.
Mrs May said: “The intention of the guidance is to make it clear that people must assess the risk of … certain types of treatment being used in the circumstances in which they find themselves and if there is a low risk of something being undertaken, that’s why the guidance sets that out in that particular way.”
Sir Malcolm called on the White House to disclose to his committee what the UK and its intelligence agencies had covered up in last week’s report. Downing Street insists all redactions were made for reasons of national security but the former foreign secretary said it was important to establish there had not been a move to hide embarrassing revelations.
Lord West, a former chief of defence intelligence, has said it was possible individual British spies knew what US counterparts were doing to detainees but denied lobbying the Senate committee on the issue.
Donald Campbell, of human rights charity Reprieve, said: “Theresa May has confirmed there was ‘work done’ by the UK to prevent certain evidence relating to the country from being put into the Senate torture report. However, we are sadly none the wiser about who did this work, and what it entailed.”
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