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U.K. Denies Collusion With Terror Suspect Torture

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband

LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain said its security services worked to avoid colluding in mistreatment of terrorism suspects held overseas, after a report from lawmakers expressed concern about cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies.

Foreign Minister David Miliband and Interior Minister Alan Johnson defended Britain's intelligence links with countries where detainees are at risk of torture or other abuse in a joint newspaper article.

"All the most serious plots and attacks in the U.K. in this decade have had significant links abroad. Our agencies must work with their equivalents overseas. So we have to work hard to ensure that we do not collude in torture or mistreatment," the ministers wrote in the "Sunday Telegraph."

Britain has been at heightened risk of terrorism with overseas links since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. On July 7, 2005, suicide bombers said to have received training in Pakistan killed 52 other passengers on London's public transport system.

Britain has intensified foreign intelligence efforts since then, but rights groups have criticized it for not pressing more effectively against ill treatment of detainees held by allies.

Lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs Committee of Britain's lower house of parliament singled out Britain's close links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) as a special worry in a report on August 9.

"While the U.K. must, by necessity, maintain its relationship with Pakistani intelligence, we are very concerned by allegations that the nature of the relationship U.K. officials have with the ISI may have led them to be complicit in torture," the legislators said in their crossparty human rights report.

Lawmakers' Warning

Continuing to use information from foreign intelligence agencies that had ignored past British requests to stop torturing suspects could constitute collusion in the torture itself, the lawmakers warned the government.

"Use of evidence which may have been obtained under torture on a regular basis, especially where it is not clear that protestations about mistreatment have elicited any change in behavior by foreign intelligence services, could be construed as complicity in such behavior," the report said.

Attorney General Patricia Scotland said in March there were sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation into allegations by British resident Binyam Mohamed that intelligence officers were complicit in his torture in Morocco before he was sent to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report follows a similar one from parliament's human rights committee on August 4, which called for a full independent inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture.

Miliband and Johnson said Britain's cooperation was sometimes a fine judgement call and had been halted in some cases because the risk of mistreatment was too high.

"Whether passing information which might lead to suspects being detained, passing questions to be put to detainees, or directly interviewing them our agencies are required to seek to minimize, and where possible avoid, the risk of mistreatment ... but it is not possible to eradicate all risk," they added.

Lawmakers said Britain should still use information from allies which had been obtained by torturing suspects if it would save others' lives.

"The government has a duty to use information that comes into its possession, from whatever source and however obtained, if it believes this will avert the loss of life," they said.