Spy agency watchdog ‘incapable of holding govt to account’ – human rights group

(Reuters)
​Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is a “hopelessly inadequate” watchdog that has failed to hold UK security services to account for 15 years, human rights charity Reprieve warns.

The human rights group's damning criticism surfaced in the wake of Sir Malcom Rifkind’s resignation as committee chair. Rifkind stepped down from the role on Tuesday, following abuse of power allegations.

Commenting on the Rifkind scandal, executive director of legal charity Reprieve Clare Algar said it should not detract from the ISC’s key problem: that it is unfit for purpose.

She warned the ISC has consistently failed to challenge government on key issues, such as UK complicity in CIA torture and depleted privacy rights in an era of mass surveillance.

The executive director of Reprieve said this vital role has effectively been left to British courts, NGOs and press outlets, as government officials fail to do their job.

She stressed Rifkind’s resignation highlights the need to address the government’s prevailing lack of accountability.

Algar said the ISC requires root and branch reform if it is to succeed in holding the most secret elements of the state to account.

She called upon the government to honor its original pledge to conduct an independent, judge-led inquiry into Britain’s involvement in torture.

Cameron had announced such an inquiry in 2010. However, in December 2013, the Tory-led coalition government scrapped the pledge and appointed the ISC to investigate the matter.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee’s explosive report on CIA rendition and torture was published in December 2014.

It described how detainees in covert CIA prisons across the globe were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as brutal beatings, “rectal feeding,” and forcing detainees into coffin-sized confinement boxes for hours at a time.

In recent years, some detail on the scope of Britain’s involvement in US rendition practices post-9/11 has surfaced.

An array of leaks, which appeared prior to the publishing of the Senate's report, highlighted Britain’s collaborative role in the CIA's mistreatment and abuse of terror suspects.

Of particular note, are allegations that British foreign territory Diego Garcia was used to transfer detainees via rendition flights.

It has also emerged that MI6 was complicit in a least two separate CIA rendition cases in 2004, which resulted in the kidnapping and transfer of two Libyans to prisons run by the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

READ MORE: Blair whitewash? Ex-PM prepared to face CIA torture inquiry into UK complicity

In January an in-depth investigation into unanswered questions raised by the Senate’s torture report was launched in Britain.

The probe seeks to address crucial gaps in public knowledge, which linger in the wake of US censorship of the Senate's report.

The investigation is a collaboration between Britain’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism and a university research initiative called the Rendition Project.

Journalists working on the project are seeking to uncover what was redacted in the final Senate report, and what information remains buried in the 6,000 pages of unreleased content.