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U.K. to investigate detainee torture claims, PM announces

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
David Cameron, left, with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
David Cameron, left, with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
  • NEW: ACLU calls on Obama administration to broaden its own investigation
  • British officers named in about a dozen cases alleging British complicity in torture
  • Cameron raises possibility of compensation for Guantanamo detainees
  • Prime Minister: "No evidence any British officer was directly engaged in torture"
  • United Kingdom
  • Torture

London, England (CNN) -- The British government will investigate allegations that members of its intelligence services were aware that detainees were being tortured, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Tuesday.

The investigation will be conducted partly in secret to protect intelligence information, he told the House of Commons.

Cameron also raised the possibility of compensation for some detainees who were held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There are about a dozen court cases alleging that British officers were complicit in the torture of detainees, Cameron said.

"There is no evidence any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11," Cameron said.

But, he said, British officers have been accused of "working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done."

Cameron said the three-member panel will ask questions including:

"Should we have realized sooner that what foreign agencies were doing may have been unacceptable and that we shouldn't be associated with it?

"Did we allow our own high standards to slip - either systemically or individually?

"Did we give clear enough guidance to officers in the field?

"Was information flowing quickly enough from officers on the ground to the intelligence services and then on to ministers so that we knew what was going on and what our response should be?"

The investigation will focus primarily on what happened at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, but will not be limited to that time or place, the prime minister said.

He also published the government's new guidance to the military, police and intelligence services on the treatment of detainees.

Human rights campaigner Clare Algar cautiously welcomed the announcement, but expressed concerns.

"The worry is the weight that David Cameron placed on the amount that is going to be done in secret," she said. "Obviously not all of this could be public, but my listening to his speech suggested that more of it was going to be private than public."

Algar is executive director of Reprieve, which campaigns for legal rights for prisoners around the world. The organization has been demanding an inquiry into detainee torture allegations.

She was pleased about the publication of the new rules for security services, but said it was "interesting that they are refusing to publish the old guidance, which suggests to me that it's dodgy."

Cameron hopes the panel will deliver its report within a year, he said. It is not entirely clear when the investigation will begin.

The prime minister said it was not "feasible" to start it while many civil suits against the government "remain unresolved."

Algar said the timeline "may be a bit optimistic to think they can clear all of the cases and report within a year."

British courts earlier this year ordered the British government to publish secret information about the alleged torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed while he was in U.S. custody.

Mohamed "was subject to really medieval torture -- among other horrors, a razor blade was regularly taken to his genitals" while he was in Morocco after being arrested in Pakistan, Reprieve said.

After 18 months in Morocco, Mohamed was taken to a prison in Afghanistan, where he was kept in total darkness and tortured for a further six months before being taken to Guantanamo Bay, Reprieve said. He remained there for four years and then was released after all charges were dropped.

In the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union responded to the British announcement with a call for the Obama administration to broaden its own investigation into detainee treatment.

The Justice Department should "broaden its own investigation into the Bush-era torture program to include top-level government officials who may have known about and authorized such abuse.

"Despite disavowing torture, the current administration continues to shield Bush administration officials from legal scrutiny or accountability for their role in the program. An ongoing Justice Department investigation of the torture program excludes top-level officials," the ACLU said in a statement.