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David Cameron's cover-up on torture


David Cameron's cover-up on torture

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This bill represents David Cameron's cover-
up on torture
The prime minister promised we'd get to the bottom of whether Britain
was complicit in torture, but he's changed his mind

It is shameful that our parliamentary democracy may be incapable of getting to the
truth about the most serious allegations that can possibly be made against
government: complicity in torture and rendition. And disturbing that legislation –
the justice and security bill – is being pushed through that will stop the truth coming
to light. Myself and others have been trying to get an investigation of credible
allegations of this, and have been turned away.

In 2009 David Cameron said: "It is vital that we get to the bottom of whether Britain
has been complicit in torture, either advertently or inadvertently." The new
government promised a fresh approach to allegations, and a judicial inquiry under
Sir Peter Gibson was then announced. Gibson had been the security services
commissioner with responsibility for overseeing their operation since 2006.
Subsequently it emerged that the inquiry was to be held in private, without
participation by the victims or public scrutiny, and was boycotted by complainants
and NGOs. In January this year, the then justice secretary, Ken Clarke, announced
that the Gibson inquiry could not continue because of lengthy police inquiries but
that another judicial inquiry would be established once they concluded.

In September 2011 the Baha Mousa inquiry reported that Mousa had died as a
result of inhumane treatment, but that report is still the only one into Iraqi prisoner
abuse to have concluded. Another inquiry – al-Sweady – concerns alleged unlawful
killings in an incident in Iraq in 2004 and has got completely bogged down because
of alleged failures by the army to disclose the information sought.

A private inquiry by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate
allegations of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners is currently in progress. Nearly
half of those working for it are reported to have come from the private security firm
G4S, and lawyers for the prisoners allege it is a shambles.

After Mousa, the head of the army, General Sir Peter Wall, said there was no place
for misguided loyalty and all members of the armed forces were invited to report any
allegations from Iraq. Nick Mercer, a former lieutenant colonel responsible for giving
legal advice to the army, wrote to Wall, advising that he had been made aware of a
number of allegations of rendition. These arose when information about the death of
an Iraqi national in a UK helicopter revealed that at least 64 prisoners were being
transported on the helicopter to an unknown "black site". The fate of those prisoners
is still unknown. Since that revelation, further "black sites" have been revealed
where prisoners of war and others were taken, seemingly without entering the PoW
chain. IHAT took down the details Mercer supplied, but he was told that it was a
"matter for Gibson". When he asked why allegations of rendition were not going to
be investigated by the police (as they constitute a potential war crime), no answer
was forthcoming.

During the proceedings that former Guantánamo detainees brought against the
government, documents were disclosed that contained proof of complicity in the
unlawful rendition from Zambia in early 2002 of Martin Mubanga. It was clear that
the Foreign Office Consular Division was ordered by No 10 to breach its policy and
refuse a British citizen consular protection. This was precisely because the Zambian
authorities would have handed Mubanga over to the British security services, which
could have saved him from rendition to Guantánamo. A complaint was made to the
police, and this was considered by a panel on which sat Keir Starmer, the director of
public prosecutions, and senior police officers. In August, Assistant Commissioner
Mark Rowley stated that the police would not investigate Mubanga's rendition
because of criteria adopted by the panel.

These were whether there was a significant risk that any evidence would not be
available or would be weakened before "the detainee inquiry", or whether the
allegation was so serious that it was in the public interest to investigate it now. In his
letter, Rowley acknowledged that the Gibson inquiry had been "suspended" – it has
in fact been terminated altogether – and referred to his expectation that a "public
inquiry" will examine the evidence about Mubanga's rendition. But Gibson was not a
public inquiry, and there is no proposal for one to be held.

It is unprecedented for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which are
independent, to refuse to investigate a serious offence on the grounds that a private
inquiry, which does not comply with standards of international law, will do so in the
far distant future.

In 20, 30 or 40 years, some future government will be apologising for serious
misdemeanours, in the style of Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday. Perhaps we will
not even be alive to see it.

During his time in the army Mercer discovered that the Ministry of Defence was not
averse to bringing in regulations to prevent judgments being made against it. I am
only too aware that I would not have the evidence about Mubanga's rendition if the
new law applied. The continuing attempt to get the closed material and secret
court provisions of the justice and security bill passed means that the government is
now committed to a cover-up – precisely the opposite of what Cameron promised in

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