UK to probe claims of role in Libya torture
LONDON (Reuters) - British police are to investigate claims that the country's secret services helped to hand over Libyan Islamists to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya where they were tortured.
But an inquiry has found no evidence British spies were complicit in separate allegations of torture of terrorism suspects abroad.
Members of the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 and its foreign equivalent MI6 have for years faced accusations they had colluded in the ill treatment of detainees, often at the hands of U.S. authorities.
The issue was so serious Foreign Secretary William Hague said last November that Britain's international standing had been damaged by the allegations.
The claims prompted two inquiries by London's Metropolitan Police, one into the mistreatment of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed and another into the alleged abuse of an unnamed individual held by U.S. authorities at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
In a joint statement, the police and Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions said the "painstaking" investigations into "serious and highly sensitive matters" had concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges.
However, as well as warning that police could re-open their inquiries if new evidence emerged, the police and prosecutors said a new investigation would be launched into claims that two individuals had been illegally handed over to Libya.
One of these, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which waged an insurgency against Gaddafi in the 1990s, says he was tortured for six years after British and U.S. agents delivered him to Libya in 2004.
Police and prosecutors said the claims, potentially embarrassing for Britain which played a leading role in ending Gaddafi's rule by contributing to NATO-led air strikes, were so serious they needed to be looked at immediately.
Current and former heads of MI5 and MI6 have always denied their spies colluded in torture.
"It is in the Service's interest to deal with the allegations being made as swiftly as possible so we can draw a line under them and focus on the crucial work we now face in the future," MI6 chief John Sawers said in a statement.
He added he was glad the "courageous" MI6 officer accused over the incident at the Bagram base in 2009 had been cleared and could continue in his job.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, Belhadj said he was glad about the decision and was ready to cooperate.
"I believe the new Libya and the United Kingdom must forge a positive relationship looking forward - but to start on a good footing, Libyans need justice for the crimes of the past. My rendition was a harrowing experience," he said.
"To this day, I cannot understand why my pregnant wife was put on the same plane and abused as well."
"I trust the police will get to the bottom of this, and find not just the rank-and-file agents, but those ministers who were truly responsible for her suffering."
In the case of Mohammed, who spent seven years in detention before being released without charge in 2009, prosecutors said there was evidence members of MI5 had provided information and questions to U.S. officials to put to him when he was being held in Morocco and other locations between 2002 and 2004.
But there was not sufficient evidence to prove they knew he was being subjected to ill treatment amounting to torture.
Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen who has British residency, says that during interrogations, he was subjected to "waterboarding," or simulated drowning, and had his penis cut with a scalpel.
In November 2010, Britain agreed to make payments to 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees in out-of-court settlements over allegations they were mistreated abroad with the knowledge and in some cases complicity of British security services. Britain said the payments were not an admission of culpability.
(Additional reporting by William Maclean)
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