NINE human rights NGOs (non-governmental organisations), including Reprieve, are urging prime minister Cameron to honour his 2010 promise of an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in the US torture programme.
In a letter sent to Downing Street on 16 December, the organisations argue that ‘last week’s publication of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has highlighted not only the horrors of the CIA’s torture programme, but also the UK’s failure as a country to put our own house in order’.
They point out that the current proposal for the matter to be examined by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) ‘falls . . . short of the necessary standards,’ adding that Cameron himself said in 2010 that the ISC was not the right choice for an inquiry.
On 19 December 2013 the government u-turned on its pledge of an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture and ‘rendition,’ and announced that the task would instead be passed to the ISC.
The NGOs have previously said that they were ‘deeply disappointed’ by this decision, as the ISC ‘has neither the powers nor the independence necessary to get to the truth’.
The letter is signed by the AIRE Centre; Amnesty International UK; Cage; Freedom from Torture; JUSTICE; Liberty; Redress; Reprieve; and Rights Watch UK.
Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said: ‘The Senate’s report on CIA torture has exposed the horrors of the programme.
‘Yet we have still not had a clear answer on the involvement of the UK Government in this shameful episode.
‘That is why we need a fully independent inquiry, with the powers it needs to get to the truth.
‘Sadly, the proposed ISC inquiry – as the Prime Minister once said himself – is not up to the job.
‘Four years ago, the Government promised an independent, judge-led inquiry; one year ago, it u-turned on that promise.
‘We are urging the Prime Minister to think again, and honour his original promise.’
The nine NGOs’ letter of 16th December to Cameron stated:
‘Dear Prime Minister,
We write as a coalition of human rights NGOs to jointly urge you to establish an inquiry into UK involvement in rendition and torture, with the powers and independence it needs to get to the truth, and a mechanism to allow the meaningful participation of victims.
As we have liaised with your Government previously on the characteristics necessary for a meaningful and effective inquiry, we will not go into those in detail again.
However, we attach our recent letter to the Intelligence and Security Committee (see below), and would simply note that neither the ISC, nor its unfinished predecessor under Sir Peter Gibson, came up to the mark.
As you will know, we welcomed your announcement in July 2010 that an independent, judge-led inquiry was to be established, and sought for a long period to come to agreement with the Government on its protocol and terms of reference.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, we found ministers unwilling to make the necessary compromises for Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry to gain our confidence.
We would note at this point that the ISC falls yet further short of the necessary standards – and in saying so, we are taking into account the minor changes to the ISC made by the Justice and Security Act 2013.
And in any case, it is undeniable that its current workload means that it will be unable to complete its inquiry within the necessary timeframe for a matter of such importance.
But more importantly, we would like to remind you of your 2010 statement which in our view was correct – that is: “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from parliament, party and government, itis right to have a judge-led inquiry.”
Your Government rightly came into office determined to get to the bottom of this issue, something crucial not only for accountability but also to restore Britain’s reputation in the world.
Yet last week’s publcation of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has highlighted not only the horrors of the CIA’s torture programme, but also the UK’s failure as a country to put our own house in order.
We therefore urge you to deliver on your promise of an independent, judge-led inquiry with the powers necessary to get to the truth, before next year’s General Election.
We are all of course willing to meet with you, your ministers or officials to discuss again what form of inquiry is necessary to ensure this.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.
Matthew Evans, Director, The AIRE Centre, Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK, Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director, Cage, Susan Munroe, Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture, Andrea Coomber, Director, JUSTICE Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty, Carla Ferstman, Director, Redress, Clare Algar, Executive Director, Reprieve, Hanne Stevens, Director (Interim), Rights Watch (UK).’
The same nine NGOs’ letter to the Intelligence and Security Committee of 30th October 2014, stated:
‘1. We wrote to the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Cabinet Secretary on 25 March 2014 to raise our concerns about the role of the ISC in the investigation of the treatment of detainees and the UK involvement in rendition (we copied this letter to the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
This letter sets out in detail our joint concerns as to whether the decision to ask the ISC to conduct its current investigation into detainee treatment and rendition was lawful or appropriate.
The concerns we raised remain unaltered and have not been allayed by the Foreign Secretary’s response. Consequently, we as a collective of domestic and international nongovernmental organisations do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of this inquiry.
2. The Government had previously assured the public and the international community that an independent judicial inquiry would be established into the matters on which the ISC is now calling for evidence.
By way of contrast, the Prime Minister had expressly ruled out the possibility of the ISC carrying out the investigation, recognising that an inquiry led by a judge who is “fully independent of Parliament, party and Government” was required “to get to the bottom of the case”.
We are therefore deeply disappointed that, having pledged to hold a judge-led inquiry shortly after taking office, both parties of Government have now u-turned on that promise.
3. We remain unpersuaded that the decision to cut short the work of the flawed Gibson inquiry and to pass the baton on to the ISC is an adequate substitute for the establishment of an independent judicial inquiry.
4. An inquiry compliant with international and domestic human rights standards is required to get to the truth about these allegations, fulfil the UK’s obligations under international law and comply with the Human Rights Act 1998.
Our earlier correspondence with the Government and the Detainee Inquiry (annexed) addressed the minimum requirements of that framework and the need for transparency, openness and effective engagement with the detainees and their families.
5. We have consistently offered support and expertise on how the Government could ensure a fully rights-compliant process for accountability.
As a group, our concerns are founded on the international commitment to the absolute prohibition on torture and other protections, including effective redress, afforded detainees by international human rights standards.
The participation and engagement with the detainees in this process must be paramount. Without such participation, it is difficult to see how any inquiry could learn lessons from the past and work toward providing redress and reparation for victims of abuse.
It is a matter of significant regret that the Government has to date refused to establish such an inquiry.
6. We have not yet received a satisfactory response explaining how the limitations inherent in the ISC’s mandate and powers can be reconciled with the obligation under domestic and international law that the Government conduct an independent, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the serious human rights violations which are currently before the Committee.
7. The ISC is not and cannot be, by its very design, adequate to the task of carrying out an independent investigation of these violations.
Despite the minor changes to the Committee made by the recent Justice and Security Act, it remains the case that the Prime Minister holds an absolute veto over its membership, the evidence which it is allowed to examine, and the information which it is allowed to publish.
We are therefore of the view that the Committee has neither the powers nor the independence necessary to get to the truth of Britain’s involvement in the rendition and torture of detainees abroad. Any investigation conducted by the ISC will be inherently flawed.
8. We understand that you have already received evidence from the intelligence agencies on the 27 points raised by the Detainee Inquiry report. We urge the ISC and the Government to make these submissions available to the public to the fullest extent possible.
9. We have no objection to this letter being published by the ISC. We intend to make the document publicly available through our respective organisations’ websites.
Matthew Evans, Director, The AIRE Centre, John Dalhuisen, Director, Europe and Central Asia Programme, Amnesty International, Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director, Cage, Susan Munroe, Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture, Andrea Coomber, Director, JUSTICE, Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty, Carla Ferstman, Redress, Clare Algar, Executive Director, Reprieve’, Hanne Stevens, Director (Interim), Rights Watch (UK).’