by Chris Ames
The Guardian’s Ian Cobain reports that:
The UK has faced tough questions this week from a UN panel closely scrutinising the UK’s human rights record, following a series of disclosures about involvement in so-called extraordinary rendition and torture in the years following the 9/11 attacks.
Over two days in Geneva, the UK delegation went before the UN committee which monitors the implementation of the international convention against torture to face hundreds of questions covering a range of issues including: complicity in abusive interrogation; renditions to Libya; the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq; and the stalled official British inquiry into the treatment of terrorism suspects.
After posing a series of questions about the killing of Baha Mousa and the mistreatment of individuals detained by the British army in Iraq, Xuexian Wang, a Chinese diplomat, complained loudly that while the UK delegation’s responses were being “given in beautiful English”, they seemed “almost to be non-answers”.
These are of course issues that the Iraq Inquiry has avoided looking at while the government avoids looking too carefully at them through other inquiries. The reference in the article to a stalled inquiry links to “The Detainee Inquiry“. The website for that Inquiry does say on its FAQ page that:
We will not exclude any rendition case because it started with the military, as opposed to the intelligence agencies. This will therefore include the cases of two detainees captured by UK forces in Iraq, handed over to the Americans, and then subsequently subjected to rendition to Afghanistan in 2004, as well as any other allegations of the awareness of or involvement in mistreatment or rendition by UK personnel whether they are military or civilian.
That Inquiry was wound up last year and a report on its work so far given to David Cameron. As Cobain noted last month:
An official report into Britain’s involvement in rendition and torture since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US has yet to be published more than nine months after it was completed and delivered to David Cameron.
According to Cobain’s article, a police inquiry into rendition to Libya is only part of the reason for the delay:
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said that was only one reason for the decision.
“Part of it was a dispute over the question over who should have the word on disclosure,” he said. “Should that be the security services or should that be the chair of the inquiry? And it was partly that the police decided that it wanted to investigate with a view to some criminal prosecutions, and that in the end was the reason given for the inquiry being put off.”
Under the terms on which the inquiry was established, the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and not Gibson, will have the final say on which sections of the report will be censored before publication. The Cabinet Office has declined to say whether material may be censored in order to protect the reputations of the UK’s intelligence agencies.
As this suggests, and as the Detainee Inquiry itself acknowledges, these arrangements are based on those of the Iraq Inquiry. There are slightly fewer reasons for blocking disclosure but, with the cabinet secretary having the final say, including on the question of whether a valid reason for blocking disclosure exists, the difference is perhaps academic.
From non-answers to delays and disputes over disclosure, the British establishment does have a way of obstructing inquiries. Of course an establishment inquiry like the Iraq Inquiry is far too polite too complain over non-answers.