Days after announcing a commission to investigate the British security services' complicity with harsh or illegal interrogations by U.S. intelligence agencies, the UK government has issued new guidance to its intelligence officers about detention and interrogation. In the U.S., such guidance would be classified, aside from what might appear in an executive order. (The UK has an Official Secrets Act, but it tends to be more transparent and more agile at correcting its own mistakes than the U.S., which has various privileges and precedents but no Official Secrets Act.)
Noting that both the armed forces and the intelligence services need to work with foreign services from time to time, the UK seeks to "ensure that our co-operation accords with our own international and domestic obligations. We take great care to assess whether there is a risk that a detainee will be subjected to mistreatment and consider whether it is possible to mitigate any such risk. In circumstances where, despite efforts to mitigate the risk, a serious risk of torture at the hands of a third party remains, our presumption would be that we will not proceed."
Some liaison services adopt a different approach and different standards to the UK in the way that they detain people and treat those they have detained. The extent to which they are prepared to take account of UK views on the way that they should behave varies, depending on such factors as the extent to which a relationship of trust exists with the UK, the extent to which there is international consensus on the issue, and the extent to which the liaison service believes it has a justification or need for taking a different approach. Personnel need to be aware of the tensions this can create and the need to manage them in a manner that is consistent with the policy described above in paragraph 6. Distinct from any personal liability, the circumstances covered by this guidance may engage the responsibility of the UK - with the potential for damage to its international reputation.Before interviewing or seeking intelligence from detainees in the custody of a liaison service, or before soliciting an individual‟s detention by a liaison service, personnel must consider whether the detainee or individual may have been or may be subjected to unacceptable standards of detention or treatment. Personnel should consider attaching conditions to any information to be passed governing the use to which it may be put (where applicable) and/or to obtaining assurances from the relevant liaison service as to the standards that have been or will be applied in relation to that detainee or individual to minimise any perceived risk in this regard. Personnel should feel free to raise any concerns with senior responsible personnel nominated personally by the head of their Agency or Department ("senior personnel")