CIA torture: MPs, human rights groups demand judicial inquiry into UK complicity
MPs and human rights groups are demanding a judicial inquiry into Britain’s involvement in CIA abductions of terror suspects, following the release of a damning US Senate report into brutal torture methods used by the US intelligence agency.
In one case, the British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, reportedly cooperated with the CIA in the rendition of Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident who was tortured and held at Guántanamo Bay for five years.
Mohamed was released from the Cuban jail in February 2009. He had been arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of being involved in a dirty bomb plot.
Mohamed claims he was beaten, scalded and had his genitals cut with a scalpel while he was held by the CIA. After his release, Mohamed took legal action against the British government, claiming MI5 and MI6 colluded in his torture by the United States.
In February 2010, the UK Court of Appeal ruled he had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” in which the British Intelligence services had been complicit.
Another case is the abduction of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi, two prominent Libyan dissidents, and their families, who were flown to Tripoli in 2004, where they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
The US Senate intelligence committee’s report revealed the CIA frequently used brutal methods, including waterboarding, rectal feeding, stress positions, walling and sleep deprivation. The report also found 20 percent of detainees were wrongly held by the CIA.
British involvement or knowledge of several torture cases remains murky.
‘Can authorities keep averting their eyes?’
British human rights groups have joined calls for an inquiry into the UK's involvement in the scandal.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: “The breadth and brutality of CIA torture is laid bare – can our own authorities keep averting their eyes? Still no sign of a judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in this shameful scandal – instead the government’s new bill furnishes the agencies with more powers to leave Britons vulnerable to torture abroad.”
British ministers and officials are accused of having tried to suppress evidence in the Binyam Mohamed case, claiming the disclosure of details of a joint CIA-UK operation would harm future intelligence cooperation between the UK and the US.
Clare Algar, executive director of the legal charity Reprieve, told the Guardian the summary of the report reveals details of only a handful of cases, including the Libyan case of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar.
“David Cameron promised a judge-led inquiry into our intelligence services, but he has since u-turned. Now the government says it will ask parliament’s intelligence and security committee to examine this scandal – the very same committee which completely failed to notice UK involvement in rendition when it was going on, and for years after,” said Algar.
‘Erode public confidence’
Other MPs have also called for investigations into the cases to be reinstated under a judge.
“Until the scope and limits of the UK’s involvement are fully known, allegations – whether true or not – will continue to erode public confidence in our intelligence and security services,” said Tory MP Andrew Tyrie.
“The intelligence and security committee should have got to the bottom of this the first time they examined it, in 2007. The fact that they erroneously concluded that the UK was not involved in kidnap and torture makes it all the more essential that their investigation is comprehensive at their second attempt.”
He said the Senate intelligence committee has done “a great service” by publishing the report, but added the UK government and Parliament must now do the same.
UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also suggested on Thursday there could be a full judicial inquiry investigating possible British complicity in torture to get to the bottom of what happened.
Speaking on LBC radio, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “Once the police investigations are done, once this report from the intelligence and security committee is done, we should keep an open mind if we need to about moving to a full judicial inquiry if there are any outstanding questions. Because I’m like everyone else, I want the truth out there.”
Speaking after the report’s release, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “After 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong and we should be clear about the fact that they were wrong.
“In Britain, we have had the Gibson Inquiry that has now produced a series of questions that the intelligence and security committee will look at.”
“But overall we should be clear: torture is wrong,” he added.
The report continues to make waves, with many demanding consequences for those found complicit in brutal torture techniques of detainees to extract information.
The UN has called for the prosecution of those responsible. “It is now time to take action,” Ben Emmerson, United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said.
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy ... must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.”
Police Scotland are also reportedly taking an interest in the report as part of its probe into rendition flights. In 2013, police began an investigation into the CIA's use of Scottish airports for the transfer of suspects.
However, the former reviewer of terror laws, Lord Carlile, told BBC News he doesn’t believe there should be a new inquiry into allegations of UK complicity in torture.
“We don't want an industry of inquiries when there is an absence of evidence of any serious wrongdoing by the security services here,” he said.