By Associated Press Writer
updated 8/10/2009 12:23:02 PM ET 2009-08-10T16:23:02

Britain's foreign spy chief denied in an interview broadcast Monday that agents tortured terror suspects or that Britain colluded with countries that use torture.

John Scarlett's claim comes amid growing calls for an official inquiry into how much the government knew about the treatment of terror suspects overseas. Several British residents who allege they were tortured or abused in countries such as Pakistan and Morocco say British intelligence agents were complicit in their mistreatment because they fed questions to foreign interrogators.

"Our officers are as committed to the values, and the human rights values, of liberal democracy as anybody else. They also have the responsibility of protecting the country against terrorism, and these issues need to be debated and understood in that context," Scarlett, the MI6 chief, told the BBC.

When asked about torture, Scarlett said: "No torture, and there is no complicity with torture."

Parliament's human rights committee last week called for an independent inquiry into whether British spies were complicit in the torture of terrorist suspects.

"We do not support calls for an inquiry," a spokesman for the prime minister's office said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is weighing whether to name a criminal investigator to determine whether laws were violated during interrogations of terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001.

President Barack Obama has moved to ban torture and controversial interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, but scant information has been released on U.S. or British involvement in sending terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogations, a process known as extraordinary rendition.

'Aiding and abetting' torture abroad
Seven former Guantanamo detainees are suing the British government, accusing the security services of "aiding and abetting" their extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment and torture.

One of the men, Binyam Mohamed, alleges that the MI5 intelligence agency fed questions to his interrogators in Morocco, where he says he was severely beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation and had his genitals sliced with a scalpel.

Mohamed, an Ethiopia-born British resident, was detained in Pakistan in 2002 and held in Morocco and later at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was released without charge in February.

The British government has fought to keep some details of Mohamed's treatment secret, arguing it could harm U.S.-U.K. intelligence-sharing if the information was released.

Obama has tried to distance himself from Bush administration policies. The British government faces a different challenge — the Labour Party has been in power for more than a decade.

"Our American allies know that we are our own service, that we are here to work for British interests, we are an independent service working to our own laws, and nobody else's, and to our own values," Scarlett said when asked how to deal with any differences over moral standards with the United States.

Officials release few details
Government officials say Britain does not condone or participate in torture, but officials have avoided answering specific allegations that Britain participated indirectly by obtaining intelligence from suspects who had been tortured overseas, or sending agents to visit suspects who suffered mistreatment in foreign facilities.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson — who oversee MI6 and its domestic counterpart, MI5 — say Britain did not collude in torture, but that guarantees of detainee treatment in foreign governments were impossible.

There is lingering debate over what constitutes torture and mistreatment, and even more on whether passing questions to foreign interrogators constitutes collusion.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said although the government has issued a denial, "it is most revealing for what it doesn't say."

'No evidence' of intelligence collusion
Kim Howells, Labour chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee that scrutinizes the secret services, said "I can tell you that we've found no evidence that there has been collusion between the intelligence services, any government department and governments that torture their individuals."

The committee often holds such investigations in secret to protect the work of the intelligence services.

Scarlett, whose career has been dogged by concerns over the intelligence used to build the case for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, is retiring in November. He has headed MI6 since 2004, and before that, he was in charge of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which was responsible for providing the intelligence dossier leading up to the war.

Scarlett will be succeeded by John Sawyers, a top U.N. diplomat who had a senior role in talks about Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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