One year since US torture report published, no sign of accountability for UK’s role

December 8, 2015

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A year since the US Senate published a major report into the CIA torture programme [on 9 December 2014], there is still no sign of either the UK’s own inquiry or a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) regarding the role the British Government played.

The Metropolitan Police have carried out an extensive investigation – codenamed ‘Operation Lydd’ – into the part played by UK intelligence in the kidnap and ‘rendition’ of two families to Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons in 2004.  However, although the CPS has received a full dossier of evidence from the police – the first of multiple files were sent reportedly in October 2014 – it has yet to announce a prosecuting decision.  Evidence already in the public domain shows a senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, taking credit for the role played by British intelligence in the operations, which saw the Belhadj and al Saadi families – including a pregnant woman and four children aged 12 and under – being kidnapped and forcibly transferred to Libya.

The renditions took place after Tony Blair had met with Libyan President Gaddafi, as part of their so-called ‘deal in the desert’. On Friday [December 11], Tony Blair is expected to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee over UK policy on Libya.

A wider inquiry into UK involvement in the CIA’s torture and rendition programme was promised by the Government over five years ago, but has yet to get underway.  David Cameron pledged in July 2010 to hold an inquiry “led by a judge and…fully independent of Parliament.” However, since then the Government has announced that the task will be handed instead to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – even though the Prime Minister previously told the Commons that “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work.”

The ISC has yet to start work on the inquiry, and a recent statement published by the Committee on 29 October showed that it is neither its first nor second priority, but rather a “longer-term” one.  NGOs including Reprieve, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have warned that the Prime Minister “holds an absolute veto over who sits on the [Intelligence and Security] committee and what information it is allowed to see and publish,” and is therefore “wholly unsuited to the task of carrying out an investigation of these issues.”

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) published around 500 pages of a 6000-page report on the CIA torture programme on 9 December last year.

Commenting, Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and lawyer for the Belhadj and al Saadi families, said: “It is shocking that the UK is lagging so far behind the US when it comes to holding the government accountable for its role in torture.  We know that Britain worked hand-in-glove with the CIA to kidnap and render a pregnant woman and several young children, just because they were related to anti-Gaddafi dissidents.  The families had great hope in British justice at the beginning of this process, but after nearly a year of delay, they now ask me why prosecutors appear to be dragging their feet on a decision.  Britain can’t turn the page on torture until we’ve accounted for what we did. How long will we have to wait before seeing a proper, independent inquiry into the wider part the UK played in this brutal programme?”


Notes to editors

The Guardian reported on 31 October 2014 that police had passed a first file of evidence to the CPS regarding the Libyan rendition cases: According to media reports, several further files have been passed since then.

The ISC’s statement of work priorities, which puts the torture inquiry a clear and “long term” third, can be found on the ISC’s website.

A letter from a coalition of NGOs to the Foreign Secretary regarding the unsuitability of the ISC to carrying out the torture inquiry, sent on 8 April 2014, can be found here: