REDRESS condemns decision to hand inquiry into Rendition and Torture to Parliamentary Committee
REDRESS today condemns the decision to hand the stalled official inquiry into rendition and torture to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
“Today’s decision is an affront to justice and accountability for allegations which are as shocking today as they were when they first emerged” said Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS. “The absence of any real reckoning and the continued passing of the buck should be an affront to any established democracy, not least the UK which has been steadfast in its rhetoric on its abhorrence of torture in any form”, she said.
This is the latest in a long line of decisions backtracking on repeated promises made by government to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry with the power to investigate allegations of complicity in rendition and torture by members of the UK security services.
An Inquiry Flawed from the Start In 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.”
But the Detainee Inquiry was fraught from the start. It had a limited mandate and very little teeth. REDRESS was one of several NGOs to later withdraw from participating.
This was due to reasons including the absence of public disclosure of evidence by security forces, under the pretence that it may do “harm or damage to national security, economic, defence interests or international relations.”
“Today’s decision is an affront to justice and accountability for allegations which are as shocking today as they were when they first emerged. The absence of any real reckoning and the continued passing of the buck should be an affront to any established democracy, not least the UK which has been steadfast in its rhetoric on its abhorrence of torture in any form.”
Also, the inquiry’s independence was limited by the fact that the government was given responsibility for deciding on public disclosure of the report. Finally, the inquiry was prevented from conducting a full inquiry given that it was not mandated to report upon all allegations of UK involvement in improper treatment of detainees held by other countries.
In 2012, the inquiry was disbanded prematurely to allow for criminal investigations, which incidentally to date have not led to any charges being laid. A joint panel of the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police was established to look into evidence of intelligence complicity in the secret rendition of Libyan nationals in 2004.
However, the government continued to state that it was willing to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry once all police investigations had concluded, and even today has confirmed that the “Prime Minister still favours a judge-led inquiry”. The government’s decision today demonstrates that this is far from the case.
The report released today only summarises the preparatory work of this flawed inquiry before it was disbanded in early 2012. This preparatory report was finished in June 2012 and has been held by government since then – “it has taken an inexcusable 18 months to agree on what could be released to the public”, Ferstman said.
The report identifies 27 issues in total that regrettably it could not examine, and which require further examination, including in areas of interrogation and rendition.
The Decision to hand off to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)
The government’s decision to hand the vast number of issues requiring further analysis to the ISC provides little reassurance that these issues will be effectively investigated. The ISC is not independent of government, its members are nominated by the Prime Minister and none are judges.
The ISC has historically been unable to effectively hold the security services to account. The ISC produced a report in 2007 that was widely criticized by NGOs and Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. Amongst other conclusions the ISC found “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any Extraordinary Rendition’ operations.”
In its 2008-9 report the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said: “Its [the ISC’s] limitations are exposed by the discussion of Binyam Mohamed’s case, however, in which the Security Service’s account of his treatment is presented apparently without challenge and relevant extracts of the Director General of the Security Service’s oral evidence are so heavily redacted as to make them incomprehensible.”
“In particular, we doubt whether Parliament or the public has been convinced by the ISC that the security services always operate within the law and that transgressions of the law are appropriately dealt with. We would welcome greater transparency in the ISC’s proceedings, such as public evidence sessions, but procedural innovations will not be sufficient to convince us, and the public, that the Government is being held to account.”
Ferstman said: “The ISC’s previous report in 2007 on rendition did little to assuage concerns over torture, renditions and the rule of law regarding our security services. Handing the Gibson inquiry to this Committee not only places in jeopardy the independence and legitimacy of what is already a flawed process, but turns the UK’s commitment to accountability into a farce.”
For further information: Contact Carla Ferstman, Director at: [email protected] or +44 (0) 2077931777.
About REDRESS: REDRESS was founded by a torture survivor in 1992 in London. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors and their families in the UK and abroad. It has intervened in a range of leading torture cases. More information is available here.