09 July, 2010

Complicity in Torture - Inquiry announced by UK government

On 6th July, the Prime Minister (David Cameron) announced that there would be an inquiry into the question of British complicity in torture conducted abroad - BBC 6th July. The Guardian 6th July also reported on this important development - Guardian 6th July.  There has been serious concern over a number of years about whether Britain has been in some way complicit in either torture or in extraordinary rendition.  For example, Binyam Mohamed claimed that British agents put questions (via the CIA) to his interrogators.  The previous government failed to deal adequately with these allegations and there is little doubt that this has done damage to Britain's standing in world opinion.

This inquiry is to be led by former appeal court judge Sir Peter Gibson who is now the Intelligence Services Commissioner.  Therein lies what is perhaps the first criticism of the inquiry.  As the civil rights body Liberty put it - "his continuing role as Intelligence Services Commissioner since 2006 ... will hardly give torture victims and the wider public the sense of a fresh pair of eyes on a sore that has festered in the shadows for so long".  He is to be assisted by Dame Janet Paraskeva (Civil Service Commissioner) and Peter Riddell (a former journalist).

No prosecutions can result since witnesses will be granted indemnity.  (Note: This was also done in relation to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Northern Ireland).  Interestingly, it is now some 18 months since the Attorney-General of the day was reported to be considering ordering an investigation into allegations that British agents fed questions, via the CIA, to those interrogating Binyam Mohamed - see Telegraph February 2009.

Cogent criticisms of the inquiry are set out by REPRIEVE.  Against a background of such criticism it is to be doubted that the inquiry will convince right-thinking public opinion.  However, the announcement of the inquiry is welcome.  It is charged with reporting by the end of this year.

With regard to publishing the inquiry findings, it is worth noting that Sir Peter Gibson conducted a review in connection with Intelligence and the Omagh Bombings in 1998 - see Northern Ireland Office. His key   findings were put in the public domain.

See UK Human Rights Blog - for a very good article covering in full David Cameron's statement
See also Watching the Law - May 2010.

Addendum: 20th July 2010 - the human rights organisation "REPRIEVE" is calling for Sir Peter Gibson to stand down from this inquiry.  They have a point.

Addendum: 29th July 2010 - the government has rejected the accusation that Sir Peter Gibson might be compromised in conducting the inquiry - see The Guardian 29th July.   They see the attack by REPRIEVE as "unwarranted and baseless".  They add that, since he is not sitting as a judge conducting litigation or a statutory inquiry, there is no legal obligation to satisfy the tests of impartiality and independence which would apply in those situations.  I still think that REPRIEVE have a point but there it is.

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