Cameron and Clegg must not u-turn on torture inquiry pledge
December 18, 2013
Reports in today’s Times suggest that the Government will tomorrow reverse its pledge to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture.
In July 2010, David Cameron announced that “[An] independent Inquiry, led by a judge, will be held. It will look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees.” At the last election, the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledged to “Hold a full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping.”
However, according to leaks to the newspaper, Cabinet Office minister Ken Clarke will tomorrow announce that the task is to be handed instead to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is made up of MPs and peers appointed by the Prime Minister. Just last year, Mr Clarke had said that “The government fully intends to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry, once all police investigations have concluded.”
Despite being tasked with oversight of the intelligence services, the ISC has been criticised for failing to spot a number of recent scandals or controversies. In 2007, three years after the MI6-orchestrated ‘rendition’ of Libyan dissidents Abdel hakim Belhadj (pictured), along with his pregnant wife, and Sami al-Saadi, along with his wife and four young children, the ISC produced a report which said there was “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ operations.”
Earlier this year, a member of the ISC admitted that it did not examine GCHQ’s mass surveillance programme, Prism, until “after the Guardian revelations,” suggesting that the committee was unaware of the issue before its appearance in the media. Its recent questioning of the heads of the intelligence agencies was described as a “total pantomime” after it emerged they had been provided with the questions in advance.
None of the Committee’s members are judges, although their number does include a former Defence Secretary, a former Home Office Minister, and a former Cabinet Secretary under Tony Blair.
Commenting, Clare Algar, Executive Director of human rights charity Reprieve said: “If the Government takes this course, it will be breaking its promise to hold a genuine, independent inquiry into the UK’s involvement in torture. Worse still, it will be handing the task to a committee of MPs hand-picked by the Prime Minister, which has consistently missed major scandals involving the security services. The ISC not only lacks independence – it has also sadly been proven to be completely hopeless as a watchdog. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ken Clarke have all personally pledged to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into torture – they must not abandon their promise in favour of a whitewash.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Today’s Times report can be found here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article3952022.ece
3. On 6th July 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that “[An] independent Inquiry, led by a judge, will be held. It will look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” http://www.detaineeinquiry.org.uk/about/
4. The Lib Dems’ 2010 Manifesto pledged to “Hold a full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping as part of a process to restore Britain’s reputation for decency and fairness.” See p68 http://network.libdems.org.uk/manifesto2010/libdem_manifesto_2010.pdf
5. In 2007, 3 years after MI6 helped organise the rendition to torture of Libyan dissidents Sami al Saadi, along with his wife and four children aged 12 or under, and Abdelhakim Belhadj, along with his pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar, the ISC produced a report which said there as “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any “Extraordinary Rendition” operations.” – see p29 of report here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/224654/rendition.pdf
6. In Parliament last November, George Howarth, a member of the ISC, admitted they hadn’t looked into the Prism/GCHQ revelations until it had been reported in the Guardian:
Mr Watson: I am reassured by my right hon. Friend’s thoroughness in the investigation. Was July the first time that the Committee had examined Prism, and was that after the Guardian revelations? [Laughter.]
Mr Howarth: It was after the Guardian revelations.
7. The ISC’s membership can be found here: http://isc.independent.gov.uk/committee-members
8. On the description of the ISC’s questioning of the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ as a “total pantomime,” see http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/National/article1341644.ece