The British press is reporting that ten major human rights and anti-torture organizations have announced they will not be cooperating or participating in the United Kingdom Torture Inquiry, headed by Sir Peter Gibson. The organizations, who sent a letter on August 3 to Sara Carnegie, Solicitor to the Detainee Inquiry, cited a lack of transparency and credibility in the proposed investigation, noting, “Plainly an Inquiry conducted in the way that you describe and in accordance with the Protocol would not comply with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Other serious problems cited included the fact that any information released would be subject to governmental approval, i.e., censorship. Additionally, there wasn’t going to be any “meaningful participation” by former torture victims or “interested third parties.” The letter concluded, “we do not intend to submit any evidence or attend any further meetings with the Inquiry team.”
The letter was signed by The AIRE Centre, Amnesty International, British Irish Rights Watch, Cageprisoners, Freedom from Torture, Human Rights Watch, Justice, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve.
A separate press release by Reprieve summarized the problems with the inquiry:
First, the definition of evidence that will remain classified forever is hopelessly overbroad….
Second, there is no meaningful, independent (preferably judicial) review of what should be kept secret….
Third, the Inquiry is left toothless due to a lack of powers to compel the attendance of witnesses or the provision of evidence or information from any party or organisation. Notably, the inquiry has refused to consider evidence against UK based corporations with alleged links to the US rendition program.
The reference to the US rendition program reminds us that much of what the British government wants hidden has to do with collaboration with the US rendition and torture program. Indeed, just yesterday, the UK Guardian released a heretofore secret document describing how the British intelligence agencies should address US torture when they encounter it.
Or we might wish to recall how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the UK government there would be serious repercussions to the US/UK security relationship if UK courts released any secret information in the Binyam Mohamed case. This British inquiry has certainly been constructed with the distant, all-seeing eye of the U.S. intelligence agencies and Pentagon.
Andy Worthington reports, there was a second letter written by attorneys for some of the detainees:
A second letter, written jointly by Imran Khan and other prominent human rights lawyers who have represented Guantánamo prisoners — including Gareth Peirce, Louise Christian, Irene Nembhard and Tayab Ali — reinforced the criticism of the government.
“We consider it impossible to advise those whom we represent that the structure and protocols now confirmed for the Gibson inquiry can achieve what are essential ingredients for a public inquiry into grave state crimes,” the letter stated, noting that the former prisoners would not even know “if the individuals being questioned are the right ones,” and adding that the lack of input “simply serves to demonstrate that there is no comprehension on the part of the government of the gravity of the crimes which representatives of the state may have committed.”
The letter continued, “We had hoped as lawyers to assist in a transparent exercise of vital importance. It is a matter of profound regret that our assessment is that the inquiry does not provide the means by which this can be realised. In the absence of there being any alteration to the protocols, our advice is compelled to be that it is inappropriate for our clients to submit evidence.”
As Andy reports, the British government is maintaining a brave face, and states the inquiry will go forward. Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, stated:
The inquiry will go ahead. It will examine the relevant documentation held by government. It will hear the key government witnesses. The inquiry offers the detainees and anyone else with evidence relevant to its terms of reference the only opportunity for them to give evidence to an independent inquiry. The detainees and the NGOs have alleged the involvement or awareness of the UK government and its security and intelligence services in relation to the mistreatment and rendition of detainees held by other countries. The inquiry would welcome such evidence.
It took less than a month from my prediction of the collapse of the UK torture inquiry, due to the British government’s bad faith in constructing a real torture investigation, for the end to essentially come. While the inquiry is still officially on, the pull-out of all the major human rights NGO’s in England involved in detainee affairs and torture means the government investigation will have no credibility in the eyes of the British public, or the world. What we see now in the UK is a simulacrum of an investigation, a farce only, without hope for resuscitation, not in this form.
However, instead of the issue being relegated to the back pages, or slinking away into obscurity, the struggle over accountability in Britain will enter a new and sharper phase, and the spill-over to the fight for justice and against torture in the United States will inevitably be affected.