US torture claims are unreliable: British lawmakers

The British government should no longer accept US assurances that it does not use torture, a parliamentary oversight committee said on Sunday in a wide-ranging report looking at London’s human rights policy.


Ministers have previously taken at face value statements from their US counterparts, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush, that Washington does not resort to such practices.

But the cross-party foreign affairs committee said that stance should be abandoned given admissions from the US director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, that “water-boarding” had been used on terror suspects.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has told parliament on two occasions this year that the practice, which simulates drowning during interrogation, amounts to torture.

Miliband’s position has “serious implications” for government policy, the committee said in its 214-page Human Rights Annual Report 2007-8.

“We conclude that, given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the government does not rely on such assurances in the future,” it added.

Britain is a signatory to a United Nations convention that prevents the extradition of suspects to countries where torture is used. If adopted, a change in approach could affect such transfers.

The committee also called for Britain to carry out an “exhaustive analysis” of US government interrogation techniques and seek guarantees about whether US flights carrying terror suspects used British airspace or airports.

Earlier this year, the United States admitted that two “rendition” flights landed on Diego Garcia, a British overseas territory in the Indian Ocean where there is a US air base.

Britain, whose policy is not to allow such transfers where there is a risk of torture, had earlier accepted assurances that its territory had not been used for the extra-judicial transfer of suspected extremists.

Such flights should not use British territory or airspace, even if no detainees were on board, the committee said.

Elsewhere, the committee urged an investigation into claims that six British nationals were detained and tortured by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and interrogated by British security agents.

The British government has denied that it has “outsourced” interrogation to extract information for court proceedings or counter-terrorism operations.