The Government is being taken to court over its refusal to hold a fully independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in rendition and torture. The legal action is being brought by human rights NGO Reprieve, David Davis MP (C) and Dan Jarvis MP (L).
The British Government has never delivered on promises to hold a fully independent, judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in US torture and extraordinary rendition of individuals as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Today’s legal action claims that the Government’s refusal to hold an inquiry is irrational, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (under which there is an obligation to fully investigate credible allegations of torture), and violates the common law prohibition of torture. The Government must respond within 21 days.
In 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the so-called Gibson inquiry to investigate UK complicity. The Gibson inquiry lacked the independence and powers needed to get to the truth of the UK’s role in post 9/11 abuses, and was boycotted by NGOs including Reprieve before being scrapped altogether by then-Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke in 2012. Clarke promised that a fully independent inquiry would be launched once ongoing police investigations were concluded, but this never materialised, and Mr Clarke maintains that a fully independent inquiry is needed.
In 2014, the Government announced an inquiry run by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), but in delivering its report the ISC accepted its findings could only be treated as provisional, as Downing Street had blocked it from interviewing multiple witnesses.
In July of this year, then-Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington told Parliament: I can confirm today that the Government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area. The Government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation.
Over nearly two decades, evidence of UK complicity has come out only in dribs and drabs, after repeated aborted investigations. Potentially hundreds of cases have never been fully investigated.
In May last year, the Government was forced to give an unprecedented public apology for British involvement in their rendition to torture. Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar were kidnapped by the CIA with the help of British intelligence in 2004, before being tortured in CIA custody. The couple were subsequently rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya.
But evidence of UK complicity was uncovered essentially by accident. In a fax discovered in an abandoned building after the fall of Gaddafi, former MI6 head of counter-terrorism officer Sir Mark Allen congratulated spy chief Mr Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Mr Belhaj and claimed that the intelligence about Mr Belhaj “was British”. Without that discovery, the UK’s role in Mr Belhaj’s torture may never have been known. An independent, judge-led inquiry is urgently needed to uncover what may be many more cases that have thus far gone uninvestigated.
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said: When the Government broke its promise to torture survivors, it also broke the law. The powerful must be held to account so that victims can move on with their lives, but just as importantly because if we do not fully investigate our past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. The risk of this has never been higher with a US President who has endorsed the use of “waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.
David Davis MP, said: When the Government finally admitted that it had no intention of holding a full and proper inquiry into torture, after years of dither and delay, I was frankly exasperated. And when I said in Parliament ‘see you in court’, I meant it. Torture doesn’t produce reliable intelligence, and involvement in it makes everyone in this country less safe. We must take a clear-eyed look at this dark period in our recent history, and give victims the redress and accountability they were promised, and face the future with a clear conscience and determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Dan Jarvis MP, said: This inquiry isn’t about trashing Britain’s reputation but rebuilding it. We owe it to the victims, the public and our security services to find out the truth and confront our involvement in torture and rendition. Our response to the threat of terrorism must be unequivocal, but it must always be legal. As a country, we are not, nor should we ever be, above the law. Failure to hold an inquiry is unlawful, under British and international law. I regret the government was unable to see this for itself, and that we have been required to bring legal action to achieve it.