Updated protocol allows information sharing even if torture may have been used

The Ministry of Defence has insisted that newly emerged departmental guidance on the sharing of intelligence derived from torture with allies, remains in line with practices agreed in the aftermath of a series of scandals following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An MoD document discreetly rewritten in November 2018 and made public on Sunday night says that UK ministers can share information obtained from third parties where there is a “serious risk” of torture “if ministers agree that the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and the legal consequences that may follow”.

In a statement, the department said that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office, which regulates government conduct in the area, was “entirely satisfied” with the MoD’s “activities and standards in this area”.

It added that “all our policy and activities in this area comply with the Cabinet Office’s consolidated guidance” on torture, which was last published in November 2011 by then prime minister David Cameron in response to a series of torture and rendition scandals the decade before.

The carefully written 2011 document says that the UK does “not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture”, a violent practice it notes there is “an absolute prohibition of … [in] international law”.

But it also says that when Britain works with other countries where “a serious risk of torture at the hands of a third party remains, our presumption would be that we will not proceed” – therefore not completely ruling out obtaining intelligence via the illegal practice.

A year ago a group of human rights organisations, including Reprieve, Redress and Amnesty International complained that the UK was recasting its guidelines on torture in secret. Writing to the foreign secretary at the time, Boris Johnson, the human rights groups said: “We therefore have serious concerns that the government may be seeking to amend or even water down its guidance on torture behind closed doors.”

Cameron’s government revised the consolidated guidance and agreed to make it public after the Guardian highlighted a series of cases in which terrorism suspects were tortured by overseas intelligence agencies while being asked questions that had been drawn up by the UK’s intelligence agencies.

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