Ex-MI5 chief: Ministers scare public to pass terrorism laws

By Paul Waugh

A FORMER MI5 chief today accused the Government of exploiting fears of terrorism to pass draconian laws as fresh allegations emerged of Britain’s complicity in torture.

Dame Stella Rimington declared that ministers were playing into the hands of terrorists by curbing civil liberties. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper published today, Dame Stella said that the Government was “frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state”.

Dame Stella, the first woman director general of MI5, has criticised Labour’s plans for ID cards and for the detention of terrorism suspects without charge for 42 days.

She told La Vanguardia: “The US has gone too far with Guantanamo and the tortures. MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification”. She said British agents were “no angels” but insisted they did not kill people.

Her remarks came amid new claims that senior Whitehall figures devised an interrogation policy for British secret service agents that allowed complicity with torture by other states.

Evidence of the existence of the secret policy emerged during a High Court case into allegations that British resident Binyam Mohamed had been tortured in Pakistan.

Mohamed, who is expected to return to Britain after ending a five-week hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, alleges that an MI5 officer colluded in his mistreatment. Before being questioned by the officer, Mohamed claims he had been hung from leather straps, beaten and threatened with a firearm by Pakistani intelligence officers.

A British agent, known only as Witness B, acknowledged that Mohamed was in an “extremely vulnerable position” when he questioned him in Karachi in 2002. The terror suspect was then transferred by the US to a secret prison camp in Morocco where he says he endured 18 months of torture. Some of the questions put to him were based on information passed by MI5 to the US.

In court last year, the MI5 officer conceded that he did not ask whether Mohamed had been mistreated or tortured and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal.

He admitted telling Mohamed that “he would get more lenient treatment if he co-operated” and said that he knew he would be transferred to US custody.

Evidence on the existence of a Whitehall interrogation policy may emerge from 42 undisclosed documents seen by the High Court and sent to MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee.