Is the UK Torture Inquiry an Attempt to Limit Further Disclosure?

There’s not yet a lot of reporting about the terms of the British inquiry into its complicity with torture. But from the reports by the Beeb and the Independent, it seems the inquiry itself will not start until all pending civil and criminal complaints about torture are completed — and the government is helpfully offering to serve as mediator to speed their completion this year. From the Beeb:

The prime minister promised compensation for victims if it was found foreign agents had committed abuses with UK counterparts colluding.

Mr Cameron told MPs that to ignore the claims would risk operatives’ reputation “being tarnished”.

On-going criminal and civil cases must end before the inquiry starts, he said.


He indicated the government was ready to provide mediation to people pursuing civil cases in relation to their detention in the US-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

This appears to put pressure on people like Binyam Mohamed to agree to mediation (between whom? between the US and him, mediated by David Cameron’s selected mediator?) if he wants to see a more generalized inquiry move forward. And of course, that generalized inquiry would be led by the British government’s hand-picked judge — Sir Peter Gibson — and the promises to complete access to the relevant documentation would be nothing more than promises until Mohamed agrees to settle.

Furthermore, at least in this early reporting, there’s no discussion of the terms of the inquiry: will it be limited to whether or not the UK asked people to torture, or whether — as Craig Murray has shown — the government knowingly accepted intelligence collected using torture in the name of gathering intelligence per se?

  1. Jim White says:

    Gosh, on first glance this sure looks like a ham-handed attempt to shut down the ongoing cases in court. But even with that, will Darth Cheney have another “heart event” in the next 48 hours, as he seems to do every time “torture” and “investigation” appear together in the press? And will ObamaCo threaten the “special relationship” on intelligence sharing if those Brits dare to look backwards?

  2. phred says:

    This was the bit from the Beeb article that concerned me:

    The panel conducting the inquiry would have access to all relevant papers, the prime minister promised, with some proceedings held in public

    Emphasis mine.

    Not exactly the open process one would expect.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This is certainly a more conservative (with a small “c”) government than its predecessor, which does not bode well for the terms of this inquiry.

    The UK Treasury’s mandate that government departments make plans to implement 40% budget cuts, however, suggests this team is not hesitant to implement the things it does care about – even in the teeth of an extended recession.

    The first thing that will do is put the fear of god into department heads and the rank and file. It gives enormous discretion to No. 10 to allow “exceptions” for favored departments. I anticipate department heads will be as willing as Bush’s US Attorneys to make changes No. 10 desires. The weight of the ax hanging over permanent bureaucrats will bring recalcitrant ones nicely into line.

    Lastly, it will lower expectations about what government ought to do for its people – and enrage many who think it has not done near enough or done it well enough. It will make the original, if ludicrous, 25% cuts seem reasonable by comparison. Even that level of cuts in service denies government the ability to plan its operations or execute them well. Oh, and suppressing expenditure, putting 600,000 government staff out of work, and cutting the social safety net for all is not likely to help bring the UK out of recession any time soon. Won’t hurt those in Hampstead or Kensington and Chelsea, or those with country seats, but everyone else will find themselves at the back of a very long queue.

    This is change in order to dominate, not to better the lives of its citizens. That does not suggest this government’s hopes for this inquiry are anything but to shut it down or make a hesitant, obstructed inquiry seem like full-scale disclosure.

  4. BayStateLibrul says:

    Sully chimes in…

    “After July 4, only one country in the Anglo-American alliance is still dedicated to the rule of law and the prosecution of war crimes: the old country. And it has taken a Tory prime minister to do what Barack Obama has not the slightest spine (yet) to tackle here.”

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    I’m gonna assume EW’s guess is correct, given that ObamaLLP would be screaming bloody murder if anything more than a sternly worded letter was likely to result.

    ObamaLLP would happily pay to make things GoAway as long as they didn’t have to admit anything.

    Boxturtle (Suspects the plan is to have the Brits pay up, while ObamaLLP reimburses London quietly later)

      • BoxTurtle says:

        I don’t believe ANYTHING ObamaLLP says, without independent supporting evidence.

        Boxturtle (And even then, you have to look out for legalistic wordsmithing)

    • skdadl says:

      (Suspects the plan is to have the Brits pay up, while ObamaLLP reimburses London quietly later)

      No way. Did BushCo quietly slip the Canadian government a few million after we paid compensation to Arar? Maybe, but I doubt it.

      I don’t know what Cameron means by mediating on behalf of people who were held at GTMO, but I’m guessing that all that will happen on that score is that the UK gov will examine (or pretend to) any role its people might have had in getting anyone to GTMO, and will compensate for that.

      It seems easier to prove that MI5/MI6 were actively complicit in torture elsewhere overseas (Pakistan, Morocco) and also used information derived from that torture, both of which should be considered massive crimes but kinda sorta won’t be, even if publicly admitted. A few individual agents may take the fall, which will be more than happened here even after the O’Connor inquiry, which was a very good and mostly public inquiry.

      The Conservatives may be more conservative, yes, but one wing of Labour will collude in keeping this inquiry very limited. They, after all, were in power while torture was being winked at by Blair and co, and there are many people who have an interest in suppressing a principled investigation. Same story with our Liberals here.

      On a superficial level, it’s sort of useful for us to have this announcement right now since we have an ongoing fight to get even parliamentary access to documents that may prove our governments’ complicity in torture in Afghanistan (yes, CSIS have done worse, but everyone seems to be ignoring that), and the superficial corporate media now have something to leap on to ask Harper questions about. For a few days.

      I liked it a lot better when it was the High Court judges who were looking at the documents and telling the government, sorry, but we don’t think that’s a question of national security, chaps. You can’t use diplomatic excuses to cover up crimes.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I absolutely agree that Blair and his old Labourites have much to gain from keeping this inquiry from fully investigating and disclosing the UK government’s involvement in torture, renditions and other crimes.

      • BoxTurtle says:

        Did BushCo quietly slip the Canadian government a few million after we paid compensation to Arar?

        I’m guessing hell no. Arar was done against the wishes of BushCo and BushCo didn’t really care about America’s foreign image.

        I’m thinking that this enquiry will be implemented with input from ObamaLLP and the price of “input” will be reimbursment at least.

        I suspect that mediating means determining the price of silence.

        Boxturtle (If there was real interest in this issue, it would have been investigated years ago)

  6. fatster says:

    O/T. They’ve charged the wikileaks guy.

    “An Army intelligence analyst [Pfc Bradley Manning], arrested in April for allegedly leaking a classified military video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad to WikiLeaks, is now facing eight criminal charges in connection with the leak.”


  7. BoxTurtle says:

    O/T: Faux banner is reporting that DoJ has finally filed suit against the Az immigration law. No linky, yet.

    Boxturtle (Skdadl: I agree, it was better when real judges were looking at things)

  8. thanos says:

    This, to me, demonstrates why our written Constitution is far better as a basis to limit government power. The UK has a deference to its intelligence services encoded in law and and enshrined in common practice of disclosure that is directly harmful to its citizenry, as the previous government has demonstrated. To me, this quote from the Grauniad link in FDL’s earlier post about climate change scientists is telling:

    “Even though the scientists have received advice from the FBI, the local police say they are not able to act due to the near-total tolerance of “freedom of speech” in the US.”

    Of course I’m not in favor of the loonies threatening climate scientists, but not only is that article a silly and ignorant characterization of the boundaries between death threats and free speech, it also reveals the blinders that have allowed things to get so bad (and they are bad) in UK regarding its police state. There’s no question that the UK government is able to – and is – keeping its own records of phone calls and e-mails of its citizens, and as of now, there’s little law on the books to demand disclosure.

    The ability of UK citizens to force their government to examine issues like torture and rendition is limited. We may be having a tough time here, but at least we have a Constitutional bedrock for our challenges.

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    Craig Murray:

    At Last A Torture Inquiry

    But what we don’t have is the terms of reference of the inquiry. These are absolutely crucial. Nothing in David Cameron’s statement precluded the possibility that it will, as the intelligence services wish, simply look at individual cases of victims and assess compensation for them, without considering the existence of an overarching ministerially approved policy to use intelligence from torture.

    I remain deeply concerned that individual junior MI5 and MI6 officers will be punished, while Tony Blair and Jack Straw plus the very senior officials like Lord Jay and Sir Richard Dearlove, who were responsible for setting the policy, will get off scot free.

    It is still by no means sure that the inquiry will even be permitted to consider this aspect. I remain doubtful that I will be able to give my own evidence of ministerial policy of complicity with torture.

    and a short youtube with interview clips of Murray: AFP: UK announces torture inquiry:

    MURRAY: I think that the most important question for the inquiry is, was there an official policy of obtaining intelligence by torture? Was this a policy which was agreed by ministers? That is absolutely the key, the key question.

    The biggest problem is the CIA. The American government is putting heavy pressure on the British government not to have an inquiry which exposes CIA’s involvement in torture.

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    Hm. So Clegg fought for a judge to lead the “inquiry.” And who gets picked? Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Peter Gibson, who as commissioner since 2006 is responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). In the past, Gibson has refused to say how many instances of bugging have taken place, because it would “assist those hostile to the UK”. See here also criticism re Gibson’s propensity for secrecy.

    We should note that this is not the first time Gibson has been asked to head a secretive investigation, as he also ran the investigation into the 1998 IRA Omagh bombing, after a BBC report that GCHQ withheld info from the police that could have led to an interdiction of the bombers. The report itself was, of course, kept secret. (See coverage here and here)

    This info, along with the caveats addressed by EW and by Reprieve UK show that we should watch very carefully what is being done in Britain in the name of a torture investigtion.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    At least the Guardian asks – but doesn’t answer – the question whether the government’s move here is to forestall any further embarrassing releases of data by the courts. It doesn’t say how this commission would facilitate that, if it’s work is to be slowed or put off until all civil and criminal cases have worked their way through the dockets. Through facilitation, perhaps, which is usually code for avoiding things that simply aren’t done, old boy.

    As may have been covered elsewhere, this commission will not be able to compel testimony by either foreigners or former government ministers, which leaves a hole sizable enough for a large lorry.