NEWS
12/01/2012 06:54 GMT | Updated 13/03/2012 05:12 GMT

MI5 And MI6 Spies Will Not Be Charged Over Allegations Of Torture Of Binyam Mohamed

No British spies will be charged over their alleged complicity in the torture of two terror suspects, but a new investigation will be held into allegations of rendition in Libya, the top prosecutor in England and Wales has said.

MI5 and MI6 agents will not face charges over the ill-treatment and torture of UK resident Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan and another detainee at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said.

But a criminal investigation will be launched into the alleged rendition and ill-treatment of two people in Libya, Scotland Yard said on Thursday.

One of the Libyans at the centre of the new claims is the military commander and rebel leader Abdul Hakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council.

In 2004 Belhadj was living in exile in Beijing with his wife Fatima Bouchar, now 38, having led a low-level insurgency against the Gaddafi regime.

In early 2004 they were detained en route to the UK where they were trying to seek asylum. They claim they were later separated, handed over to US authorities and taken to what they believe was a US secret prison where Belhadj says he was mistreated.

He was then detained for six years in prisons in Libya, and claims he was interrogated by "foreign" agents, including some from the UK. His wife was also imprisoned in Libya for four months, then released just before she gave birth, they say.

Lawyers claim evidence of the UK's role in the couple's rendition is detailed in a number of documents held by the Libyan security services, which came to light after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

According to lawyers, one is a letter from Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, head of Gaddafi's intelligence agency, dated March 18, 2004.

In it, Sir Mark is said to pass on thanks for helping to arrange Tony Blair's visit to Gaddafi, writing: "Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq."

Belhaj's allegations, and those of one other making similar claims, are "so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now rather than at the conclusion of the Detainee Inquiry", a joint statement by Starmer and Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens said.

The statement added: "the ... panel will consider the other allegations of ill treatment made to the police in relation to other named individuals detained in similar circumstances in due course."

In the second case, a detainee at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan was interviewed by a member of the Secret Intelligence Service there in January 2002.

But officials were unable to speak to the detainee or possible witnesses, who were not British officials.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "This government condemns torture and inhumane treatment. We will never support it, we won't ask other people to do it on our behalf.

"The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) has now said that it will not be pursuing criminal charges in two cases which have been under investigation, but that there are further cases which require more investigation.

"The government and the security services will give complete and full cooperation to those investigations so that the police can get to the bottom of them as well."

Above: Abdul Hakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council. (Alamy)

No charges will be brought in two other cases.

Starmer said prosecutors looked into whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute any British spies over aiding and abetting torture, aiding and abetting war crimes, or misconduct in public office in relation to Mohamed's case.

There was evidence showing members of the Security Service "provided information to the US authorities about Mohamed and supplied questions for the US authorities to put to Mr Mohamed while he was being detained", the statement said.

But the CPS "concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove to the standard required in a criminal court" that any spies provided information when they "knew or ought to have known that there was a real or serious risk that Mr Mohamed would be exposed to ill-treatment amounting to torture".

"Against that background, it is not possible to bring criminal charges against an identifiable individual," the statement said.

It added: "Nothing in this decision should be read as concluding that the ill-treatment alleged by Mr Mohamed did not take place or that it was lawful."

Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay claim British security and intelligence officials colluded in their torture and abuse while they were held at the controversial detention centre.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has stressed the government's commitment to "drawing a line" under the alleged involvement of intelligence agencies in the torture of terror suspects held overseas.

A government spokesman said: "The government has always been clear that the Inquiry will not be able to start formally until all related police investigations have been concluded.

"We will need to consider the implications of the launch of a further police, in consultation with Sir Peter Gibson, the inquiry chair."

A number of British Muslims have complained that they were questioned by agents after being tortured in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Others say they were tortured in places such as Egypt, Dubai, Morocco and Syria, while being interrogated on the basis of information that could only have been supplied by the UK.

In November 2010, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced that secret payouts to 16 former detainees at Guantanamo were being made to pave the way for the inquiry into allegations of torture.

Mohamed, Bishar Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga were said to be among those receiving settlements.

Mohamed was granted refugee status in Britain in 1994 after seeking asylum from Ethiopia.

He travelled to Pakistan in 2001 - the year he converted to Islam - and was arrested there a year later on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, before being "rendered" to Morocco and Afghanistan.

After being subjected to alleged torture by his US captors, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. However, in October 2008, the US government dropped all charges against him.

Mohamed was released and returned to Britain in February 2009.

In a rare speech on the use of secret intelligence in November, Hague acknowledged that Britain's reputation had been damaged by claims that MI5 and MI6 officers had been complicit.

"The very making of these allegations undermined Britain's standing in the world as a country that upholds international law and abhors torture," he said.