Magazine article The Spectator

Guilty by Association

Magazine article The Spectator

Guilty by Association

Article excerpt

Account Rendered by Roger Gough, Stuart McCracken and Andrew Tyrie Biteback, £19.99, pp. 400, ISBN 9781849541091

It has become increasingly obvious that something went terribly wrong with British intelligence-gathering, both its methods and morality, after the destruction of the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001.

Earlier prime ministers had displayed scruples about the use of intelligence gained from torture. But during the Blair premiership this changed. Britain became part of a nightmarish universe where the standards which we claim to represent were undermined and sabotaged.

It is important to stress that there is no evidence at all that our intelligence officers were (unlike their gung-ho counterparts at the CIA) directly engaged in torture. But there is a great deal of evidence that we despatched terrorist suspects to countries where we knew that they would be tortured, and that we coached the torturers about the right questions to ask and gave them the information they needed.

The nature and extent of British involvement remains, however, a matter of speculation. This is in part because British Cabinet ministers have repeatedly covered up and misled parliament when the subject has been raised.

In 2005 Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, came out with the following statement:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States and also, let me say, that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.

These words had to be 'corrected' three years later by Straw's successor David Miliband, as evidence of British involvement in rendition (defined by the authors of this book as the 'the involuntary transfer of an individual across borders without recourse to extradition or deportation proceedings') became irrefutable.

The Security and Intelligence Committee, set up to monitor the intelligence services, has been toothless and weak, consistently supplied with inadequate information by the security services, and not appearing to mind that the Gibson Enquiry - belatedly set up to investigate torture claims - moves at a funereal pace, is hopelessly compromised and ought to be wound up. One of its members, Peter Riddell, quietly resigned from its three-man committee last month, a decision he is unlikely to regret. …

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