Central role of torture ‘evidence’ in Iraq war shows need for independent UK torture inquiry
July 5, 2016
In 2014, the US Senate’s intelligence committee established that a key claim used to justify the invasion of Iraq was extracted through torture from a victim of the CIA’s ‘rendition’ programme.
The claim, made by Libyan detainee Ibn Sheikh al Libi, and subsequently recanted on the basis that it was made under torture, was that Iraq was ‘supporting al Qaeda.’ It was cited by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the same day (5 February 2003) that Secretary Powell made these claims to the UN, Tony Blair told MPs that there were “unquestionably” links between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
It is unclear whether Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry on the Iraq War has considered the role of faulty evidence extracted through torture in the UK Government’s decision to back the war. Human rights organization Reprieve is therefore calling for the re-establishment of an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in the US torture programme without delay.
According to a footnote in the report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation programme,
[…]Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who had previously been rendered from CIA custody to [redacted] reported while in [redacted] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa’ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech to the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February 1,2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [redacted], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. [Executive Summary, p141 n857]
Former Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer – who was released without charge to his home in London last year – has reported that British personnel were present during one of al Libi’s interrogations in Bagram Prison, Afghanistan, while the two men were being held there. From Bagram, al Libi is believed to have been rendered to Egypt, where he was further tortured, before ultimately ending up in Libya where he disappeared.
In the UK, a recent statement by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) provided the first official confirmation of British complicity in the CIA rendition programme and political knowledge of the operations. The CPS stated that an unnamed ‘suspect’ – believed to be MI6’s Sir Mark Allen – had been involved in the 2004 kidnap and rendition of two families to Gaddafi’s Libya, and had “sought political authority for some of his actions.” However, the CPS claimed there was “insufficient evidence” to bring charges. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, questioned about the decision last week, refused to deliver his original promise – made in July 2010 – of an independent, judge-led inquiry into torture.
An inquiry into torture under Sir Peter Gibson was established in 2010, little more than a year after Gordon Brown set up the Chilcot Inquiry in 2009. Sir John has been frequently criticised for the length of time his inquiry has taken; but progress on the torture inquiry has been slower still.
In January 2012, the Government announced that the Gibson Inquiry would be shelved before it had completed its work. The task has since been handed to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a body which is subject to a Government veto on what evidence it is allowed to examine and what information it is allowed to publish. In 2010, the Prime Minister categorically stated that the ISC was not right for the job of the torture inquiry, telling MPs that
I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work […]For public confidence, and for independence from Parliament, party and Government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry.
However, the Government has since U-turned on this position, and handed the inquiry to the ISC. The ISC has refused to answer multiple questions from Reprieve on what evidence it has received, the progress of its inquiry, or how it will overcome the problems associated with its lack of independence from government. A short statement from the Committee’s Chair in the wake of last month’s CPS decision provided no timeframe for the inquiry beyond saying that “I expect it to continue for some time.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org