London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Britain does rely on information extracted under torture in foreign countries but the use of testimony obtained in this manner was only “in rare cases”, according to Ian Pearson, Foreign Office Minister for Trade who is also responsible for human rights.
Speaking to the Foreign Affairs Committee at the House of Commons, Pearson indicated that it was “unreal” to disregard information obtained under duress if “it helped save the lives of British citizens”.
Asked to comment on press reports claiming the US had secretly used British territory and airspace to transfer prisoners suspected of terror links, the Minister indicated no evidence had been obtained in this regard and said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had written to his counterpart Condoleezza Rice to uncover the truth behind these allegations.
With much of the session devoted to a discussion of whether information extracted under torture was being used by the British government, Pearson appeared constantly on the defensive and repeated his answers, stressing that the government condemned all forms of ill-treatment.
When asked by the Committee Chair, Labour MP Mike Gapes whether Britain admitted information gathered by foreign governments using torture, the Minister answered evasively, according to other members of the Committee.
Pearson said, “When such information is obtained from prisoners and we have doubts about whether it was obtained under torture, this consideration is included in our examination/use of the evidence” and then admitted, “Yes, we use this information.”
“It is impossible to disregard evidence that might be crucial in saving the lives of innocent British civilians [from a terrorist organization] and we need to use this evidence because we are responsible for the protection of our citizens.”
He indicated, “No one is comfortable with this” but added that realism meant the government could not disregard this information “in a minority of cases”.
He denied that this realism contradicted the government’s insistence on obtaining guarantees from foreign countries that they would not torture suspects Britain intends on handing over. The Minister said, “We are discussing these memorandums of understanding”. He stressed that no individual would be extradited before the necessary guarantees were obtained. The agreements will also include a framework and “arrangements to monitor their implementation”.
Pearson pointed out “the allegations” that the CIA used British territory and airspace to transfer terror suspects to and from countries which used torture had yet to be proven.
He added the British government has already informed its US counterpart it objected to the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay under the current set-up and described the conditions in the military jail as “unacceptable.”
“The war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq … is a war to protect human rights”, the Minister added.
Speaking on the controversy surrounding the discovery of prisoners many malnourished and some showing signs of torture, in the basement of an Iraqi Interior Ministry building, Pearson indicated the UK government had not yet obtained information from its Iraqi counterpart in this regard, “I believe that the [ Iraqi government’s] investigation is ongoing” he said.