Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service told its personnel in Afghanistan two years ago that the treatment of U.S. prisoners may not meet “appropriate standards” and warned them to avoid participation in “coercive” interviews, a parliamentary committee reported.
The report said the warning was issued one day after the SIS, also known as MI6, was first granted access to U.S.-held detainees in Afghanistan, and was based on what was thought to be an “isolated incident” witnessed by a single British officer.
Nevertheless, SIS officers were warned that the British government’s “stated commitment to human rights makes it important that the Americans understand that we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it,” says the report, dated March 1 and signed by Ann Taylor, chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
A full copy of the report, titled “The Handling of Detainees by UK Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq,” is posted on the Internet at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/publications/reports/intelligence/treatdetainees.pdf.
The report says that on Jan. 10, 2002, the first day the SIS had access to U.S.-held detainees in Afghanistan, “an SIS officer conducted an interview of a detainee. Whilst he was satisfied that there was nothing during the interview which could have been a breach of the Geneva Conventions, he reported back to London his ‘observations on the circumstances of the handling of the detainee by the U.S. military before the beginning of the interview.’”
Those comments raised concerns about the U.S. treatment of detainees, the report says, and the next day instructions were sent to all SIS officers in Afghanistan advising them that all prisoners were entitled to equal protection under the Geneva Conventions.
“It appears … that they may not be treated in accordance with the appropriate standards,” said those instructions as quoted by the parliamentary report.
Although it is not the responsibility of British officers to intervene with the American handling of prisoners, the instructions continued, “in no case should they be coerced during or in conjunction with an SIS interview of them. If circumstances allow, you should consider drawing this to the attention of a suitably senior U.S. official locally.”
“It is important that you do not engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners,” continued the instructions, which went on to point out the obligations of the SIS officers under British criminal law.
The parliamentary report says the SIS officer who first reported a problem did not witness any “further instances of this kind” during his remaining three weeks in Afghanistan and that the agency regarded it as an isolated incident.
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