The Cameron/Clegg inquiry into whether MI5 and MI6 officers, whilst not themselves committing torture on those caught up in the post-9/11 wars, nevertheless were complicit with countries abroad in the use of torture on their behalf, is certainly welcome but rather more murky than at first sight both as to its causation and its likely outcomes. It is right that the inquiry is judge-led rather than being headed up by a senior politician who would be less credible and less forensic. But disquieting aspects about both the origins and intended objectives of this initiative include the following hidden reefs ignored in the Commons exchanges. Though the evidence of MI5/MI6 complicity is palpable, this inquiry would not have happened unless the High Court had revealed a summary of CIA evidence about the torture of Binyam Mohammed in Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay which it is claimed MI5 knew about. In addition, in the case of 6 UK citizens including Mohammed detained at Guantanamo Bay allegedly with MI5 and MI6 connivance, the High Court was requiring a quarter of a million relevant documents to be disclosed.
What is disturbing is that the Government’s motive for the inquiry is that it should pave the way for a Green Paper followed by legislation to prevent any British or foreign intelligence ever being disclosed in court. The effect of that would be that any evidence of complicity in torture or any other wrongdoing by the intelligence services would be buried forever. That is an unacceptable price in allowing violence and cruelty by agents of the State to go unpunished and even unreported. It’s also an unnecessary price because there is ample opportunity for evidence to be heard in secret.
The inquiry will also be very carefully circumscribed. It is a non-statutory inquiry so that its powers will be limited, and it will not be able to compel individuals to attend and provide evidence. Most of the evidence will be heard in private. It won’t summon relevant witnesses from abroad, especially CIA agents. Any requirement on Tony Blair or any other Labour ex-Minister to give evidence has also been ruled out, even though the alleged mistreatment of British citizens occurred on their watch and even though MI5 officers have indicated they were acting under guidelines drawn up by their superiors.
These guidelines remain secret. In 2002 all British intelligence officers were given written guidance that they did not have to halt torture, only be seen not to condone it. This paved the way for MI5/MI6 officers to be drawn into torture practices used by the US military in the so-called war on terror. Then after photos of the Abu Ghraib abuses were disclosed in 2004, the secret interrogation guidance was completely re-drafted.
Blair however has repeatedly refused to answer questions about what he knew about the rewritten guidance. Why? The inquiry still won’t resolve this matter even though it is crucial to determining whether responsibility for any complicity in torture ultimately lies either with errant intelligence officers or their political masters. Though the present Government has just published new ‘consolidated’ rules to guide UK security and intelligence officers, significantly it has declined to publish the guidelines in force when the torture is alleged to have taken place Why?