Monday, May 24, 2010

Torture and the British Government

Will the truth ever emerge?

The legacy of the outgoing Labour administration was so shocking, so intensely anti-libertarian, that it has not been difficult for the new Tory-LibDem coalition to shine by comparison.

In the first few weeks, Cameron and Clegg have announced an inquiry into torture allegations and other measures (to review the extradition of Gary McKinnon and to cancel the ID card scheme) which I can only applaud.

I find myself in the unnerving position of approving and welcoming the activities of a new Conservative Government.

(If only they will take the axe to Trident as well.)

Inquiries in Britain have a habit of taking a long time, costing a lot of money and obfuscating (rather than clarifying) the issues and background of controversial matters of policy.

I hope very much that the proposed inquiry into the well documented activities of MI5 and MI6 operatives who condoned and may even have encouraged the agents of other government to torture Britsh citizens will be different.

On 20th. May, the Guardian listed its own repeated accounts of British intelligence agents involved in torture and summarised the need for the inquiry to fulfill the following objectives:

To establish the full truth, the inquiry will need to discover:

• Who authorised the bilateral agreements with the US, signed three weeks after the 9/11 attacks under article V of the North Atlantic treaty, that led to the UK offering logistic support for the CIA's rendition programme of kidnap and torture.

• Whether any other such bilateral agreements were signed that led to human rights abuses during the so-called war on terror.

• Who drew up, and who authorised, the secret interrogation policy, transmitted in January 2002 to all MI5 and MI6 agents in Afghanistan, telling them they could interrogate people who were being tortured, as long as they did not participate and were not "seen to condone it".

• How was that policy further developed in mid-2004, why and by whom.

• Which ministers authorised these policies.

• What Downing Street knew about the torture of the British resident Binyam Mohamed, and about the torture in Pakistan and elsewhere of several British citizens suspected of planning terrorist attacks since 2001.

• What the last foreign and home secretaries, David Miliband and Alan Johnson, knew about the UK's involvement in torture and rendition, what they did – and critically, what they may not have done – in an attempt to bring it to an end.

The inquiry will also be under pressure to publish the interrogation policy as it has stood since mid-2004 – even though Miliband said last year that this could never be done as it would "give succour" to the country's enemies.

The Guardian also included the following:

Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, said the inquiry should have happened long ago. "To restore trust in government, both here and abroad, and to get to the truth the inquiry needs to be deep and broad and as open as possible," he said.

"It should address in particular who authorised what and when and why, what the relevant legal advice said, and how it related to any change in US practice in 2002 and 2003."

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