UK foreign secretary announces judicial inquiry into allegations of UK complicity into torture of terrorist suspects

A judge will investigate claims that British intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of terror suspects, William Hague, the foreign secretary, said tonight. Hague’s remarks appear to have caught the Foreign Office by surprise, as no details were yet available on how the inquiry will be conducted, its terms of reference or when it will start work. The inquiry is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.

Hague will come under pressure to ensure the inquiry is public and comprehensive. He first called last year for an independent judicial inquiry into claims that British officials had colluded in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the former Guantánamo detainee and a UK resident.

Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, said

“To restore trust in government, both here and abroad, and to
get to the truth, the inquiry needs to be deep and broad and as open as
possible. It should address, in particular, who authorised what and when
and why, what the relevant legal advice said, and how it related to any
change in US practice in 2002 and 2003.”

As The Guardian remarks:

To establish the full truth the inquiry will need to discover:

• Who authorised the bilateral agreements with the US, signed three weeks after the 9/11 attacks under article V of the North Atlantic treaty, that led to the UK offering logistic support for the CIA’s rendition programme of kidnap and torture.

• Whether any other such bilateral agreements were signed that led to human rights abuses during the so-called war on terror.

• Who drew up, and who authorised, the secret interrogation policy, transmitted in January 2002 to all MI5 and MI6 agents in Afghanistan, telling them they could interrogate people who were being tortured, as long as they did not participate and were not “seen to condone it”.

• How was that policy further developed in mid-2004, why and by whom?

• Which ministers authorised these policies?

• What Downing Street knew about the torture of the British resident Binyam Mohamed, and about the torture in Pakistan and elsewhere of several British citizens suspected of planning terrorist attacks since 2001.

• What the last foreign and home secretaries, David Miliband and Alan Johnson, knew about the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition, what they did – and critically, what they may not have done – in an attempt to bring it to an end.

The inquiry will also be under pressure to publish the interrogation policy as it has stood since mid-2004 – even though Miliband said last year that this could never be done as it would “give succour” to the country’s enemies.

It will also want to examine any drafts of that policy, which could also have been used to govern the conduct of British intelligence officers interrogating detainees held overseas. Also relevant to the inquiry will be the transcripts of a number of court hearings held in camera, including part of the civil proceedings brought on behalf of Mohamed, and the criminal prosecutions of two terrorists. After learning what had been concealed by the use of courtroom secrecy at the trial of a man who lost a number of fingernails after being detained and questioned in Pakistan at the suggestion of British authorities, David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, told the Commons: “I cannot imagine a more obvious case of the outsourcing of torture.”


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