The head of Britain's security agency, MI5, denied his organisation withheld documents from members of parliament about the alleged torture of a British resident by American officials. In an article in London's Daily Telegraph, Jonathan Evans described as "the opposite of the truth" allegations that MI5 attempted to cover up its claimed involvement in torture.
Mr Evans's rebuttal concerns suggestions by a judge that MI5 "deliberately misled" the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) by withholding documents concerning the alleged mistreatment of Binyam Mohammed. Mr Mohammed, an Ethiopian residing in Britain, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and was transferred to American custody, during which time he claims he was mistreated, with the collusion of British authorities.
This week the British government was ordered by the Court of Appeal to publish a seven-paragraph summary of what British intelligence officials were told about Mr Mohamed's treatment by the CIA. According to the summary, Mr Mohammed was subjected to sleep deprivation, threats and other acts which the court said were "cruel, inhuman and degrading". Writing in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, Mr Evans said the British government had been concerned about the effects of disclosing information provided on a confidential basis.
Being forced to reveal such details, he said, could jeopardise security co-operation with the United States, which could in turn hamper counter-terrorism efforts. "The United States does not have to share intelligence with us. Nor do other countries," Mr Evans wrote. "The US government has expressed its deep disappointment at the publication of the paragraphs and has said that the judgment will be factored into its decision making in future.
"We must hope, for our safety and security, that this does not make it less ready to share intelligence with us." In a leaked draft of the court's judgment, Lord Neuberger, indicated MI5 did not denounce torture, respect human rights or fully disclose to the parliament committee what it knew. This section of the court's judgment was not published after objections from a government barrister that it would be "exceptionally damaging".
Mr Evans said he accepted ISC criticisms that British intelligence was "slow to detect the emerging pattern of US mistreatment of detainees after September 11", but insisted Britain's intelligence agencies had not practised torture nor colluded in it. While MI5 would use all powers "under the law" to safeguard Britain from terrorism, Mr Evans warned "enemies" would also use "all tools at their disposal to attack us".
"That means not just bombs, bullets and aircraft, but also propaganda," he wrote. "Their freedom to voice extremist views is part of the price we pay for living in a democracy, and it is a price worth paying." After being arrested in Pakistan in 2002, Mr Mohammed was secretly flown to Morocco, where he alleges he was maltreated during interrogation about his life in London. He claims questions he was asked could only have come from British officials. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and released without charge last year.