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february 13, 2013 • 07:17 PM

Britain says intelligence sharing crucial despite abuse risks

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague leaves Downing Street in central London February 5, 2013.
Foto: Neil Hall / Reuters
 

Britain is justified in sharing intelligence with countries suspected of human rights abuses to protect itself, Foreign Secretary William Hague will say on Thursday, despite concerns over the torture of suspects and costly court cases.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Britain has been wrestling with how to uphold its opposition to all forms of torture whilst ensuring it could gather information about planned attacks by militants, some of which might have been obtained through ill-treatment of suspects.

That has led to accusations of collusion in torture and a number of embarrassing legal defeats.

In a speech setting out the government's counter-terrorism strategy, Hague will argue that Britain faces a "stark choice" over whether to turn away from states unable to guarantee that suspects won't be abused or tortured.

Hague, who oversees Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Headquarters intercept agency, said there were risks in working with some countries, but that the dangers of disengaging were even greater.

Many countries would be able to give "credible assurances" that they will not mistreat suspects, Hague will say, according to advance extracts of his speech released by his office.

"Where this is not the case, we face a stark choice," he will say. "We could disengage, but this would place our citizens at greater risk of terrorist attack, in the UK or overseas. Or we can choose to share our intelligence in a carefully controlled way."

PAYMENTS

In 2010, Britain agreed to make payments to 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees in out-of-court settlements over allegations they were mistreated abroad with the knowledge and in some cases complicity of British security services.

The same year, the government lost a legal battle to prevent disclosure of secret U.S. intelligence material relating to the "inhuman" treatment of one former Guantanamo Bay detainee, which officials said risked future U.S. cooperation.

Meanwhile, London has also suffered repeated court defeats in its attempt to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan because judges believed evidence obtained using torture could be used against him in a future trial.

British authorities say they would never use, or encourage others to use, torture to obtain information. Hague said in 2011 that the very fact allegations had been made had "undermined Britain's standing in the world".

However, human rights groups condemned British Prime Minister David Cameron's decision last year to scrap an inquiry into whether its security services knew about the torture of terrorism suspects overseas.

In his speech, Hague will outline a new approach to counter-terrorism that "supports justice and the rule of law as well as our security".

Under the strategy, Britain will work with countries where there is a security threat to try to improve their approach to human rights, law enforcement and criminal justice.

Hague will also say al Qaeda posed the biggest threat to Britain's security, with last month's hostage crisis in Algeria and fighting in Mali highlighting how this had become more "fragmented" and how militants exploited regional unrest.

(Editing by Michael Holden)

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