The London Guantánamo Campaign welcomes David Cameron's statement in the House of Commons on 6 July concerning an inquiry into the Intelligence Services’ involvement in the “mistreatment” of terror suspects abroad over the past nine years. This is a positive step, but there are several problematic issues that we hope will be addressed before the start of the inquiry.
An official inquiry into such matters must be held openly if it is to be truly in the public interest. Secrecy, in an inquiry led by a former judge who serves as the Intelligence Services Commissioner, only risks further “tarnishing” the very “human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law” that the Prime Minister claims the Intelligence Services exist to protect. That the Prime Minister has given himself the power to decide what may and may not be made public will do little to engender confidence. The inquiry, as broadly proposed, will almost certainly result in the further lack of accountability and transparency that has been so effective at destroying public trust in the government and Intelligence Services.
Breaches of international obligations by the Intelligence Services and the ministries they serve under have not only been alleged but proven in some cases. Allegations of torture must be judged according to the international obligations to which Britain is a State party and not as mere “mistreatment”, which has no legal definition as such. Some consideration must also be given to the human consequences of our complicity in these most heinous of crimes against humanity. It is unfortunate that the emphasis in this inquiry appears to be on protecting international relations at the expense of protecting the vulnerable in our society and compliance with internationally recognised legal standards for the protection of human beings.
The narrow remit and limited powers of the inquiry are unjust both to the public and the very people who have suffered such horrific treatment. Unless all allegations are considered equally and openly and all relevant witnesses, including former ministers and senior civil servants, are heard, no lines can be drawn under this issue, public confidence in the security services and government will not be restored and the inquiry will be little more than an academic exercise.
The Prime Minister also announced new guidance for the Intelligence Services and the introduction of a green paper next year on how intelligence is dealt with in the courts. It is important to remember that our international relations and intelligence would not be compromised and we would not be engaged in costly inquiries had this country not been complicit in any way in international wrongdoing over the past nine years at the expense of the taxpayer. We will live with the consequences of such practices for a long time. Torture as a means can never be justified by the ends; similarly, inequitable practices in the inquiry cannot be justified by the intent of the inquiry itself. We hope that the torture inquiry will draw a line under this sorry episode of our history, bring an end to the pattern of repeat abuse and offer some closure to the victims and their families. We also hope that the government and the three-member inquiry will address the criticisms made thus far.