Challenge to UK rules on overseas torture

AP News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2011 8:45 AM
Challenge to UK rules on overseas torture

British guidelines to prevent spies and soldiers from colluding in torture overseas are flawed and likely unlawful, the country's equality commission said Tuesday.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission opened a legal challenge at the Royal Courts of Justice over rules published last July in response to worries about U.K. officials' handling of detainees held by allies.

"Intelligence tainted by torture comes at a price _ a price that Britain should not be willing to pay," John Wadham of the commission said outside the court.

Under new instructions, when questioning people held by foreign authorities, or before asking others to question them on behalf of the U.K., British military and intelligence staff are now expected to report to managers all cases in which they suspect there is a serious risk of torture.

In most cases, government ministers must then decide on what action to take.

The rules also set out the scenarios under which officials should challenge foreign partners over a detainee's treatment, and how they should act if they are certain that mistreatment is taking place.

Publication of the rules came after police launched inquiries into the actions of two British intelligence officers in relation to people held overseas. One was cleared of wrongdoing, the other inquiry is ongoing.

Ben Emmerson, lawyer for the commission, told the court the new rules were unclear and left open the prospect of British collusion in torture.

"The guidance ... is unlawful," Emmerson wrote in a document presented to the court. "It exposes detainees to a risk of torture for which the U.K. is legally responsible and which might have been prevented had domestic and international law been properly applied."

He said the rules fail to protect intelligence officers and military intelligence staff from prosecution, and don't comply with British law governing the aiding and abetting of torture.

Emmerson told the court that in cases where concern over possible torture is raised, ministers can still potentially authorize officials to proceed with interviews of detainees.

The rules also allow intelligence officers to rely on informal assurances that torture won't take place _ promises that are not subject to outside scrutiny.

Britain's government insists it does not use, condone or solicit the use of torture, and that the new rules are lawful.

Government lawyers said allegations brought by the commission were "speculative and entirely unfounded." The commission is seeking a ruling from judges that would force the government to draft new, stricter instructions to govern work with detainees.