A top-secret leaked document has revealed that British intelligence officers from MI6 and MI5 were authorised by Tony Blair's government to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas - echoing earlier allegations made against US authorities by whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.
The document, which was obtained by the UK's Guardian newspaper, instructed officials to weigh up the importance of the information that could be gained against the amount of pain they expected prisoners to suffer.
While the policy document told UK intelligence operatives not to "participate in, encourage or condone", it provided for the political protection of officers known to have breached UK or international law via their involvement with agencies linked to torture.
The policy document, entitled Agency policy on liaison with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment was first distributed to intelligence officers in Afghanistan in 2002 and was pursued for nearly a decade, with a number of revisions, until it was rewritten by the newly elected coalition government last July.
But the policy's existence remained a tightly guarded secret, with UK authorities fearing it would increase the risk of attack by Islamists if it became public knowledge. The document was deemed too sensitive to be revealed at a forthcoming official inquiry into British involvement in 'extraordinary rendition' and torture by US allies.
"If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact of the agency seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed," the document states, continuing:
"For instance, it is possible that in some circumstances such a revelation could result in further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism."
The Guardian's full exposé is available here.