Reliability and the UK’s Guidelines on Using Torture

The Guardian has liberated the UK’s policy on cooperating with liaison services that torture. ((h/t Rosalind) As the Guardian explains the policy basically sets up a bureaucracy to weigh whether the value of the information outweighs the imperative not to torture.

The interrogation policy – details of which are believed to be too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition – instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer. It was operated by the British government for almost a decade.


One section states: “If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact of the agency seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed.

“For instance, it is possible that in some circumstances such a revelation could result in further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism.”

The policy adds that such a disclosure “could result in damage to the reputation of the agencies”, and that this could undermine their effectiveness.

It’s bad enough that the Brits have taken such a calculating approach to torture–effectively saying, well, sometimes you’ve got to let the US or Uzbekistan torture for you.

But in their discussions–in effect, the last two paragraphs of the guidelines–about whether information gathered by torture is reliable or not suggests the strong possibility that they’re better not asking if information came from torture.

The circumstances in which detainee information has been obtained will be relevant in assessing its reliability. Accordingly, the Agency should wherever possible seek as much context as possible, particularly if the intelligenece is threat-related. However, the Agencies’ ability to do this is often limited and, in any event, they may not press to be told the precise sourcing where to do so might damage co-operation and the future flow of intelligence from the liaison service in question.

It is established as a matter of law that information may be used as the basis for operational action, whatever the circumstances in which it has been obtained. However, where it is established that information has been obtained by torture, it is not possible to rely on that information in legal proceedings, for instance to justify the Agency’s operational actions or to support the taking of steps against an individual, such as deportation or exclusion. LAs are able to advise on the possible application of this evidential bar in particular cases.

Much of this policy appears to designed to allow for the use of torture, while pretending that doing so doesn’t implicate Britain in the torture.

But because of this insulating effort, the Brits seem likely to avoid asking about the conditions under which information was collected.

And yet they would treat it as potentially reliable intelligence, precisely when knowing torture elicited it might cause the government to reassess its accuracy.

It all seems designed to set up a industry of torture, in which abusive allies confirm their value in the war on terror by using torture to produce “leads,” which the Brits will then treat as accurate in an effort to pretend that torture doesn’t lie at the heart of this industry.

8 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    I’m going to start a busines making racks, iron maidens, thumbscrews and other such. If the world’s job program is going to be torture, I want in on the ground floor.

    Boxturtle (On a related note, my morals and ethics are now available to the highest bidder)

  2. Sole Prop says:

    “to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer.”

    As opposed to weighing the total of accurate information obtained against the destruction of your moral standing and the radicalization of your own populace, not to mention the world?

  3. allan says:

    OT. Italy seizes ratings agency documents

    Italian prosecutors have seized documents at the Milan offices of ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s in an investigation over fluctuating Italian share prices, Reuters reported Thursday. S&P reportedly called the probe “groundless” and Moody’s said it is cooperating with the investigation. The probe concerns a large selloff of Italian assets on July 8 and July 11 on concerns Europe’s third-largest economy was falling prey to the eurozone’s growing debt crisis.

  4. phred says:

    “where to do so might damage co-operation and the future flow of intelligence from the liaison service in question.”

    I would bet a great deal that this particular caveat was added specifically for the benefit of the United States.

    IIRC there were a few occasions where the U.S. made threats to end cooperation with intelligence agencies in other countries, if those countries investigated torture perpetrated by the U.S.

  5. smintheus says:

    This is relevant (from the Guardian analysis):

    “The secret interrogation policy was first passed to MI5 and MI6 officers in Afghanistan in January 2002 to enable them to continue questioning prisoners whom they knew were being mistreated by members of the US military.”

    Further evidence that the US torture policies were implemented right after 9/11/01; and were well established practices of the US military overseas before Guantanamo was set up; and European allies knew all about the torture.

  6. harpie says:

    Marcy linked to Craig Murray’s 2005 article about this topic. He responds to the latest news on his blog, here:

    Secret Torture Policy; Craig Murray; 8/5/11

    I was sacked for opposing – within the Foreign Office – a secret UK government policy of cooperation with torture. Not only was I sacked, I was charged with eighteen reputation wrecking allegations, ranging from sexual blackmail through financial impropriety to alcoholism, of all of which I was eventually cleared. Throughout this process and still today, the Government claimed I was lying about the policy of collaboration with torture.
    They never denied any of the detail of my evidence, but rather attacked my “credibility”, which aided by the corrupt press/media nexus was sufficient to keep my information out of the mainstream.
    Now the Guardian has irrefutable evidence that what I said is true, and there was indeed a secret policy of torture which implicates the top of the British political, diplomatic and intelligence establishments. Simon Jenkins nailed the extent of this a year ago, although I think I am entitled to point out there was at least one senior UK civil servant who actively tried to stand against it – me. […]
    I have today sent the following email to the Inquiry, following up my earlier submission of documentary evidence: […]

  7. harpie says:

    The big question:

    There are only two possibilities – either he knew, in which case he may himself be criminally culpable, and certainly cannot head the inquiry into the matter. Or this secret policy was kept hidden from the Commissioner himself. Either way it should be a huge story. Why is nobody asking?

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