Document:Torture Inquiry must reveal the Truth
Even if it shames Britain, this torture inquiry must reveal the truth (especially about Tony Blair)
First of all, the Secret Intelligence Service lost its integrity as British spies collaborated in Tony Blair's fraudulent conspiracy to convince the British public that Saddam Hussein possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that posed a grave threat to Britain and the world.
Worse still, British agents then turned their back on basic human morality. Over the past few years, overwhelming evidence has come to light showing that officers from the domestic intelligence agency, MI5, and the foreign intelligence agency, MI6, have been complicit in the torture of terrorist suspects. It is important to stress that there is no evidence, at all, that British agents themselves carried out torture.
However, there is a mass of evidence that they did indeed receive information that had been obtained as a result of torture — and that they knew this was the case. More than that, in a very large number of cases, Britain appears to have become involved in what is euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition’ — the transfer of terror suspects to countries such as Pakistan and Morocco, where torture is known to take place as a matter of course.
Torture does not take the form of mild physical punishment in countries such as this. We are talking here of physical punishments of medieval barbarity. One victim, Binyam Mohamed, says that he had his penis cut open with a scalpel, alongside a series of other grotesque punishments. Mohamed has come forward with very plausible testimony that MI5 was involved in his torture in both Pakistan and Morocco, and he is just one in a very long list of victims.
Such well-founded allegations as these are deeply shaming to Britain as a nation, and do appalling damage to our reputation across the world. Not only that, thanks to the introduction of a ‘mediation’ process, we now face the shame of paying millions of pounds in compensation to detainees who claim they were tortured with the complicity of our security services. Up to 12 former terror suspects are likely to receive large sums before the new inquiry begins — a move which would negate the prospect of long and expensive court cases.
Despite this, David Cameron must be applauded for coming to Parliament yesterday to announce that there will be a full-scale, judge-led inquiry to get to the bottom of the appalling allegations that the British state was party to torture. Cameron is to be congratulated further for delivering on a promise to carry out this inquiry which he first made in Opposition. Ever since the formation of the coalition Government, the intelligence services have been in a running battle at Whitehall to force him and Foreign Secretary William Hague to change their minds, and it is immeasurably to the Prime Minister’s credit that he has stood firm. Better still, he has awarded the inquiry strong powers to call for documents and demand to see witnesses. It will be a judge-led inquiry, which holds out the prospect that the investigation will be independent and rigorous. It must be said also that David Cameron’s action puts to shame his predecessor Gordon Brown and, above all, Labour’s former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
Miliband is now the out-and-out favourite to win the Labour leadership contest. And yet, as Foreign Secretary, he refused again and again to hold an inquiry into the very serious and credible allegations that Britain had been complicit. Worse still, the Blair and Brown governments repeatedly denied that anything untoward was taking place.
If this inquiry is carried out with rigour and integrity, David Cameron has ensured that it has all the tools to get to the bottom of this very serious scandal, and reveal the truth of what really happened. That supposes that the three-strong tribunal who have been entrusted with carrying out this inquiry really are independent and capable of asking the very tough questions. Sadly, the recent history of judge-led inquiries of this sort suggests that will not be the case.
- It has been amply demonstrated that Lord Hutton’s investigation into the death of government scientist David Kelly in the summer of 2003 failed to ask the right questions, while reaching conclusions that flew in the face of evidence.
- Similarly, Lord Saville's inquiry into terrible killings of 14 innocent protestors at Londonderry lost much of its credibility through Saville’s poor command of the material. Many well-placed observers remain convinced that the reason his inquiry took so long was that it was a cynical expedient entered into for the sake of the Northern Irish peace process.
So, is there any prospect that Sir Peter Gibson, the 76-year-old retired judge who has been put in charge of the torture inquiry, will be any better?
The signs are worrying. Sir Peter is a thoroughly acceptable figure to British spies because he has been Commissioner of the Intelligence Services since 2006, and was reappointed only last year. Most of his work is carried out away from the public eye, but I have heard no reports of Sir Peter asking probing questions of MI5 and MI6 bosses over the past few years, despite the publication of a mass of troubling material during that period.
A second member of the tribunal, Peter Riddell, is a retired journalist from the Times newspaper who, five years ago, published a book celebrating Tony Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush and the U.S. — by coincidence at almost exactly the moment the worst of the alleged torture abuses were taking place.Riddell, though a cheerful and popular figure, has never been known for the kind of forensic investigation and harsh scrutiny this inquiry surely requires. Many will surmise that this is exactly why he was appointed. Meanwhile the Times, for which Mr Riddell worked for many years, has given only perfunctory coverage to the numerous revelations about British complicity over the past few years. Though regarded with amiable fondness by senior Whitehall and intelligence figures, Peter Riddell has not yet demonstrated any of the toughness or readiness to challenge the Whitehall establishment this investigation requires.
The third member of the inquiry panel is Dame Janet Paraskeva, the First Commissioner of the Civil Service. She is also head of several quangos: she is chair of the body that hands out billions of Lottery money to Olympic causes, and also chair of the quango which oversees the Child Support Agency.
She and her two colleagues will need to ask some very difficult questions, indeed. It will be no good isolating malpractice at a junior level. The inquiry must find out how wide the circle of knowledge went, and find out exactly who authorised the policy which enabled complicity in torture. This trail will not just need to go to the top of the intelligence services themselves. It is extremely unlikely that they would have acted as they did without explicit political authorisation. Yet Tony Blair has always pleaded ignorance of the policy of complicity with torture. Is he (as over weapons of mass destruction) lying?
All the evidence we have seen so far suggests that Britain was dragged into malpractices thanks to our strong intelligence co-operation with the U.S. The tribunal, in its search for the truth, must not be afraid to embarrass the U.S.
The Committee will need to call in Sir John Scarlett, head of SIS at the time when the worst abuses were taking place, and scrutinise him closely about his statement on BBC radio last year that ‘there is no complicity in torture’ in the British secret service.
There is one further question which lies outside the scope of this inquiry — and it is a question that cries out to be asked. Britain is fighting against enemies which, so our politicians tell us, hate our very way of life and the values that sustain us as a country.
Why is it then that in the first decade of the 21st century, we ourselves betrayed those very values in such a gruesome and barbaric way?