Government torture inquiry refusal a ‘broken promise’ to torture survivors

July 18, 2019

Image of Belhaj giving his apology to the parliament

The Government today refused to hold an inquiry into UK involvement in rendition and torture, while presenting updated Whitehall guidance – the so-called ‘torture policy’ – that fails to expressly prohibit Ministers authorising action carrying a real risk of torture.

In a statement to the commons today, David Lidington said: I can confirm today that the Government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry.  There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area.  The Government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation.

Responding to the statement, David Davis MP, said: “I’ll resist the temptation to reply to the failure to provide a judge-led inquiry in four words: those words being ‘see you in court’. Because it’s quite plain that this decision will face judicial review, and that will take even more time and less closure…So the government’s asking us to allow it to mark its own homework… it simply should not be allowed to do so. To the point that the government have solved the problems, I’m afraid that is plainly and demonstrably not true… there is not a prohibition on ministers approving torture. Plainly, the government has not learned its lesson yet. There are a number of reasons for having an inquiry: legal, reputational, operational, closure, and the simple one of keeping the promise we gave. And I’m afraid, eventually, the government will be forced to that position.”

In 2012 Kenneth Clarke, at the time Justice Secretary, announced that he was scrapping the so-called ‘Gibson Inquiry’ into UK involvement in CIA torture and rendition. NGOs including Reprieve boycotted it on the basis that the vast majority of the inquiry would be held in secret and thus unable to fully investigate victim claims. In 2014, the Government announced an inquiry run by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), but in delivering its report the ISC accepted its findings could only be treated as provisional, as Downing Street has blocked it from interviewing multiple witnesses.

Despite this, both inquiries resulted in a drip-feed of information about the hundreds of cases in which the UK was complicit in CIA torture and rendition, suggesting there is more information that remains hidden.

Dan Dolan, Deputy Director of Reprieve, said: “Today the Government has not only broken its promises to Parliament and the public, but also to survivors of war-on-terror era torture. Tweaked Whitehall guidance doesn’t provide redress for victims, most of whom remain in the dark as to the Government’s role in their mistreatment. By refusing to deliver on its commitment to hold a fully independent inquiry, the Government has failed to fulfil its legal responsibility to independently investigate allegations of torture, and hold those responsible to account. Reprieve is exploring legal action to challenge this decision.

If we do not learn the lessons from this period in British history, we are doomed to repeat them, and the risk of this has never been higher with a US President who has endorsed the use of “waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.”

At the same time as the torture inquiry announcement, the Government released its updated Consolidated Guidance – the so-called ‘torture policy’ – which governs UK intelligence sharing where there is a risk of action leading to torture. The changes have been agreed following a review of the policy by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

The changes agreed by Sir Adrian Fulford, the outgoing Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and the Government, do not address the most widely acknowledged gap in the Government’s policy. This new policy doesn’t expressly prohibit ministers from authorising action that risks leading to torture.