x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Musharraf says UK tacitly approved torture of terror suspects

Former MI5 chief Elizabeth Manningham-Buller denies ex-Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf's claim that 'a blind eye had been turned' by the British to torture of its citizens.

LONDON // Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, said he believed the British government had given its "tacit approval" to the torture of terrorism suspects.

The claim directly contradicted the public position held for decades by successive UK governments, all of whom have disavowed torture in all its forms.

But Mr Musharraf, interviewed by the BBC for the TV documentary The Secret War on Terror, broadcast last night, said during his time as president from 1999-2007, he "never … never once" recalled being told by Britain that it did not want its citizens tortured.

"Maybe they wanted us to continue to do whatever we were doing," he said. "It was a tacit approval of whatever we were doing.

"We are dealing with vicious people and you have to get information. Now, if you are extremely decent, we then don't get any information. We need to allow leeway to the intelligence operatives, the people who interrogate."

Asked if the results achieved by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency justified the methods, he said: "To an extent, yes."

Mr Musharraf's claims come before a government-ordered inquiry into alleged UK complicity in torture in foreign countries, including Pakistan, which is to get under way in two months.

The inquiry was partially prompted by the case of Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian living in Britain, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks.

Mr Mohammed, who later spent four years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before being freed without charge, has always maintained that he confessed under torture conducted on the directions of British intelligence officers.

In last night's programme, Elizabeth Manningham-Buller, the former director general of one of the UK's intelligence services, MI5, denied Mr Musharraf's claim that "a blind eye had been turned" by the British to torture.

"There was no tacit approval of torture," she said. "I think this raises a much broader question. Al Qa'eda is a global threat. To counter it, we need to talk to services throughout the world.

"We have to be careful and cautious in those relationships, but to decide that we are never going to talk to the following 50 countries in any circumstances means that you are deciding deliberately not to try and find out information that you need to know."

In her first television interview, Baroness Manningham-Buller was also asked when she had become aware that US officials had been using "enhanced interrogation techniques".

She replied: "Not for a quite a long time after they started using them. They chose to conceal it from the allies and, indeed, from their own citizens."

Sir David Omand, Whitehall's security and intelligence co-ordinator between 2002 and 2005, also disputed the former Pakistani president's claims.

"I am very clear we are not and have not been complicit in torture and I'm in no doubt that all the countries concerned, including Pakistan and the United States, were very well aware of what British policy was, which was we don't do this and we don't ask other people to do it."

In a bizarre moment in the programme, Jim Clemente, from the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit, said one intelligence officer at Guantanamo Bayhad told him she had studied the methods used by fictional agent Jack Bauer in the TV series 24 "to get ideas on interrogation methods".

dsapstead@thenational.ae