Government defends use of foreign intelligence

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain on Wednesday defended its use of intelligence obtained by foreign security agencies from terrorism suspects, even when it could not be sure how the informants had been treated.

An armed police officer stands guard behind the gates to Downing Street, the official residence of Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in central London, January 23, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

“We cannot get all the intelligence we need from our own sources, because the terrorist groups we face are around the world, and our resources are finite,” the Foreign Office said in an annual report on human rights.

“So we must work with intelligence and security agencies overseas. Some of them share our standards and laws while others do not. But we cannot afford the luxury of only dealing with those that do. The intelligence we get from others saves British lives.”

The government lost a legal battle last month to prevent the disclosure of U.S. intelligence material relating to allegations of “cruel and inhuman” treatment of British resident Binyam Mohamed by the CIA, leading to accusations that domestic spy agency MI5 knew about the use of such methods.

Judges disclosed information given to MI5 by the CIA that Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen who has been fighting to prove that he was tortured and that British authorities knew about it, had been shackled, threatened and deprived of sleep in U.S. custody. The head of MI5 has denied that his agency colluded in torture.

“The government has been absolutely clear that the UK stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment,” the Foreign Office report said.

“When detainees are in our custody we can be sure how they are treated and that measures are put in place to meet our obligations and standards. We cannot always have that same level of assurance when they are held overseas by foreign governments.”

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at an event in London to launch the report, said Britain’s commitment to uphold human rights had been under intense scrutiny.

But he said it would not be right for Britain to refuse to co-operate in the investigation of “terror networks” in South Asia or kidnappings in Iraq.

“The question is not whether we should respect human rights in the process ... rather the question is how human rights can be factored in to our approach,” he said.

Reporting by Matt Falloon; writing by Tim Castle; editing by Mark Trevelyan