UK Government attempting to “censor” Senate torture report

August 4, 2014

The British Government has admitted that it has “made representations” to the US concerning the release of material in a major forthcoming Senate report concerning the CIA’s torture and rendition programme. 

The admission, contained in a letter from former Foreign Secretary William Hague to legal charity Reprieve, has led to accusations that the UK is seeking to “censor” the contents of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report, which is currently undergoing a lengthy declassification process before its expected publication in the coming days.

In the letter, received by Reprieve in July, Mr Hague states that “We have made representations to seek assurance that ordinary procedures for clearance of UK material will be followed in the event that UK material provide [sic] to the Senate Committee were to be disclosed.”

The admission marks a change of tack from the Government: ministers had previously told Parliament when questioned about their role in the declassification process that “The release of the Committee’s report is a matter for the United States.”

The admission has led to concerns being raised by Reprieve that the UK Government is attempting to “censor” the report in order to cover up embarrassing details. The concerns have been given weight by a series of recent leaks concerning the contents of the report, which allege that it contains information regarding the use by the CIA of the British territory of Diego Garcia to secretly detain prisoners.

It is also thought likely that the report, which looks at the entirety of the CIA’s renditions programme, may include details of a joint UK-US operation which saw Gaddafi opponents sent to Libyan prisons in 2004. One of those opponents, Abdel-hakim Belhaj, was kidnapped and ‘rendered’ alongside his wife, who was five months pregnant at the time. Both were mistreated during their rendition, and Mr Belhaj subsequently faced years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.  The couple is currently bringing a case against the British Government, which was heard in the Court of Appeal last week and is now awaiting judgement. The UK Government is seeking to have the case thrown out on the basis that hearing it could damage relations with the US.

Cori Crider, a director at legal charity Reprieve said: “This shows that the UK Government is attempting to censor the US Senate’s torture report. In plain English, it is a request to the US to keep Britain’s role in rendition out of the public domain. It also turns the Government’s defence in the Libyan renditions case of Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and his wife entirely on its head. The government protested that America would be angered if this kidnap case ever went to trial – and now we learn the British government is leaning on the Americans not to air Britain’s dirty laundry.  It exposes their litigation stance as mere posturing.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Alice Gillham on +44 (0) 7792 351 660 / alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk

2. Mr Hague’s letter to Reprieve can be found here.

3. On 9 June 2014, FCO Minister Hugh Robertson told Parliament that the release of the report was a matter for the US: Mr David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to support the full release of the United States Select Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Hugh Robertson: The release of the Committee’s report is a matter for the United States. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140609/text/140609w0002.htm#140609w0002.htm_spnew56

4. Leaks to the media have suggested that the UK gave “full cooperation” to the CIA over the running of a secret prison, or “black site” on Diego Garcia, an island in the British Indian Ocean Territory. See ‘British gave ‘full co-operation’ for CIA black jail on Diego Garcia, report claims,’ Daily Telegraph, 10 April 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10758747/British-gave-full-co-operation-for-CIA-black-jail-on-Diego-Garcia-report-claims.html and ‘Revealed: Senate report contains new details on CIA black sites,’ Al Jazeera America, 9 April 2014: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/9/senate-cia-torture.html