11:12, June 11 40 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-11 11:12:18
MPs and peers call for judge-led inquiry into UK rights abuses

An all-party group of MPs and peers has written to Theresa May demanding a judge-led inquiry into the UK’s role in human rights abuses since September 11.

Denouncing what they described as “Britain’s disgraceful involvement in rendition and torture”, the group said this was the only way to establish the truth about who was responsible for abuses.

The all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, led by Ken Clarke, is made up of five Conservatives, four Liberal Democrats and three Labour MPs and peers, plus two crossbenchers, one of them the former Lord Speaker Lady D’Souza.

They have made the letter to the prime minister public weeks before the intelligence and security committee (ISC) publishes two reports on rendition after an investigation lasting more than four years.

Last month, Theresa May publicly apologised for Britain’s involvement in a 2004 rendition operation in which MI6 assisted with the kidnap of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi. Belhaj was flown to Tripoli along with his pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar.

David Cameron established an inquiry led by a former appeal court judge shortly after the 2010 general election.

Sir Peter Gibson’s work was suspended after Scotland Yard opened a criminal investigation into the rendition of Belhaj and Boudchar, and the matter was handed to the ISC.

The police investigation ended with the Crown Prosecution Service deciding there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the prime suspect, Sir Mark Allen, a former head of counter-terrorism at MI6.

In their letter, the parliamentarians noted the CPS had accepted Allen sought political authority for some of his actions, and said this indicated “that further investigation is needed into the involvement of ministers, civil servants and other government officials in the renditions”.

“A judge-led inquiry is now the only way to establish the truth, ensure that lessons are learned and to restore public confidence in our intelligence and security services,” they wrote.

The ISC sent two reports to Downing Street last month. They are entitled Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010, and Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues. They will be made public only in redacted form after May has consulted the intelligence agencies that are the subjects of the reports.

The ISC’s first report is expected to touch upon the rendition of Belhaj and Boudchar, but not examine that rendition operation in any detail.

It is thought it will answer many of the 27 questions identified by Gibson when his inquiry was halted by the government in 2012.

In a report published in 2013, Gibson made it clear that documents he had read showed British intelligence officers continued to be involved in the interrogation of detainees, despite their mistreatment having been witnessed.

He questioned whether the UK had “a deliberate or agreed policy” of turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of prisoners, and whether MI6 and MI5 were willing to “condone, encourage or take advantage of rendition operations” mounted by others.

He also reported that the documents raised serious questions as to whether the ISC was at times kept in the dark about the mistreatment of detainees and the agencies’ involvement in mistreatment.

In 2007, the ISC published a report on rendition that the UK intelligence agencies claimed had given them “a clean bill of health” on detainee mistreatment.

The ISC’s second report is expected to contain a number of recommendations concerning the guidance paper intended to prevent UK intelligence officers from becoming embroiled in human rights abuses.

Known as consolidated guidance to intelligence officers and service personnel on the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas, the paper provides safeguards for people being held by foreign governments, from whom the UK is seeking information.

The current version was rewritten and made public by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government in 2010, after the Guardian highlighted a number of instances in which its previous version appeared to have resulted in detainees being tortured while being asked questions from MI6 and MI5.

Last year, the intelligence services commissioner, Sir Mark Waller, reported that GCHQ had failed to consider the guidance paper on 35 occasions when it was passing on intelligence to a foreign partner, including eight in which the intelligence should not have been shared.

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