10:31, July 18 196 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-18 10:31:07
Former Tory minister accuses government of failing to ban torture

Conservative former ministers and human rights groups have accused the government of failing to outlaw torture as it published fresh guidance on the treatment of detainees abroad and refused to launch a judge-led inquiry into post 9/11 rendition cases.

Almost a year after parliament was told there would be a response within 60 days, the Cabinet Office secretary, David Lidington, said it was not necessary to carry out any further investigations and that the government was under no legal obligation to do so.

Lidington’s statement was condemned in the Commons by former Tory ministers, including David Davis who warned that the decision would be subject to legal challenge.

Dan Dolan, deputy director of the civil liberties organisation Reprieve, accused the government of breaking its promise to parliament, the public and those who had been tortured during the so-called war-on-terror.

He said: “Tweaked Whitehall guidance doesn’t provide redress for victims, most of whom remain in the dark as to the government’s role in their mistreatment. By refusing to deliver on its commitment to hold a fully independent inquiry, the government has failed to fulfil its legal responsibility to independently investigate allegations of torture and hold those responsible to account.

“Reprieve is exploring legal action to challenge this decision. If we do not learn the lessons from this period in British history we are doomed to repeat them, and the risk of this has never been higher with a US president who has endorsed the use of waterboarding and threatened ‘a hell of a lot worse’.”

Last year parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) found that the UK had planned, agreed or financed 31 rendition operations. In addition there were 15 occasions when British intelligence officers consented to, or witnessed, the use of torture, and 232 occasions when the intelligence agencies supplied questions to be put to detainees whom they knew, or suspected, were being mistreated.

On Thursday Lidington told MPs: “The government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area.

“The government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation. These matters have been subject to a number of police investigations over the years, including Operations Hinton, Iden and Lydd … None of these police investigations has resulted in further action being taken, although some enquiries are continuing.”

But Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said in the Commons: “It’s quite plain that this decision will face judicial review, and that will take even more time and less closure … The government’s asking us to allow it to mark its own homework … it simply should not be allowed to do so. To the point that the government have solved the problems I’m afraid that is plainly and demonstrably not true … there is not a prohibition on ministers approving torture.

“Plainly, the government has not learned its lesson yet. There are a number of reasons for having an inquiry: legal, reputational, operational, closure, and the simple one of keeping the promise we gave. And I’m afraid, eventually, the government will be forced to that position.”

Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary, warned that the episode had damaged the UK’s international reputation. Richard Benyon, a Conservative member of the ISC, said the committee was being prevented from interviewing some of the officials it wanted to meet.

To coincide with Lidington’s announcement, the government released its updated Consolidated Guidance, which is supposed to restrict UK intelligence sharing where there is a risk of action leading to torture. The changes were agreed following a review of the policy by the investigatory powers commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford.

But Reprieve said: “The changes agreed by Sir Adrian Fulford and the government, do not address the most widely acknowledged gap in the government’s policy. This new policy doesn’t expressly prohibit ministers from authorising action that risks leading to torture.”