Reprieve is delighted by the announcement of an inquiry into allegations of torture complicity by the British secret services

July 6, 2010

Reprieve is delighted by the Prime Minister’s announcement but insists that 1) the inquiry cannot restore the reputation of the British security services unless its findings are made public and 2) the inquiry must address the official policy under which the intelligence agents were working at the time.

Reprieve is concerned by a number of elements of the proposed inquiry, including: 

1) Secrecy: The scourge of the last government was the fact that they tried to cover up all the facts relating to torture complicity cases. In particular, the Binyam Mohamed litigation revolved around the government claiming public interest immunity in materials which were simply embarrassing. Now, the Prime Minister is saying that much of this inquiry will be held in secret. The only way in which public confidence is going to be restored in the intelligence services is if the public is able to see this inquiry functioning properly.

2) Government control over publication: It looks as though the judge is going to see everything but the Prime Minister is going to decide what is made public. Therefore we will only see what the government wants us to see. This was the problem with the last government, and as long as politicians are making these decisions the national embarrassment/national security problem will remain.

3)Avoiding the Inquiries Act 2005: This inquiry will deliberately not be held under the Inquiries Act – why? The Baha Mousa inquiry was held under the Act and has been a model of an inquiry functioning efficiently, including the hearing of secret evidence. Under the Government’s plan, there is no formal mechanism for civil participation — so Reprieve and other civil organisation will not be allowed access to documents and proceedings. Under the Inquiries Act, document classification review proceedings are sophisticated and rightly allow the judge to balance the need for national security against the need for transparency. The Government’s plan must offer an equivalent mechanism.

4) Official policy governing intelligence agents: The new policy, or guidance, has been published – what about the previous policy? The fact that the previous policy has not been published suggests that there is something within it to be hidden. The judge will see that, but will we? Will we know whether unlawful acts carried out in the past were authorised by that policy / guidance?

5) New Policy is unlawful: Because it allows ministers to authorise torture. This is illegal under the Convention Against Torture. Was this clause also in the previous guidance? If so then ministers must be held accountable for allegations of complicity in torture.

6) Delay: until after civil claims settled and criminal cases resolved. This is supposed to have happened by the end of this year. Will all claims and the prosecution be dealt with in the next 6 months? If so, the civil claims must be settled – this will mean that the claimants will be paid off and that no disclosure / documents will come out of those cases. This, together with a secret inquiry will mean that information will never reach the public.

7) Deference to the ‘Control Principle’: There is going to be a Green Paper as to how intelligence, especially foreign intelligence, will be treated in Court. There is already ample opportunity (much increased recently) for evidence to be heard in secret. There is no need to expand this dangerous practice.

Reprieve’s secret prisons investigator Tim Cooke Hurle said: “The previous Government’s addiction to secrecy has eroded public trust in politicians and in our security services. We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement, but without openness, transparency, and frank disclosure this inquiry will be seen as a whitewash. We cannot learn from history unless we know what it is.”

Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said: “Reprieve is delighted by the announcement of a judge-led inquiry into allegations of torture complicity by our intelligence services. It is essential that this inquiry look at the official policy and rules under which British agents were operating. A new version of the rules has been published today, but the fact that the government refuses to publish the old rules suggests that they were embarrassing if not illegal. The inquiry must address this, in public, if we are to learn from our mistakes.”

Reprieve’s Executive Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “This inquiry is welcome but the devil is in the detail: the idea that this inquiry must be heard in private is misguided and wrong. For too long our politicians have confused national security with national embarrassment. This creeping secrecy is the scourge of any open democracy and must be stopped if we are to rebuild trust in our government and our reputation overseas. This inquiry is welcome but will only succeed if it is conducted with a genuine commitment to transparency and openness.”

For further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’


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