ISSN 2330-717X

Torture Complicity Under the Spotlight in Europe


Last week, in the first of two articles examining how “War on Terror”-related complicity in torture is under intense scrutiny in Europe, I ran through the history of Britain’s post-9/11 involvement in US torture, and its extensive forays into holding people without charge or trial in the UK, attempting to send foreign nationals back to countries where they face the risk of torture, using information derived from torture in other countries (sometimes with direct British involvement) and subsequently using this information operationally and even in judicial hearings.

The trigger for this article was an announcement by the British government that the terms of a judge-led inquiry into British complicity in torture — first announced by foreign secretary William Hague on May 20 — have been agreed. This is welcome news, as it indicates that the UK may be the first Western country prepared to conduct an official inquiry into the whole of its post-9/11 policies, as they relate to torture — although it was worrying to hear that Prime Minister David Cameron had “suggest[ed] that the inquiry would examine only one case — that of Binyam Mohamed — and, in addition, that he “had already concluded that the country’s intelligence agencies were guilty only of errors of omission, not commission.” The official announcement of the inquiry this week has done little to alleviate these fears, with David Cameron explaining that most of the inquiry will be held in secret, and adding, “Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret.” As Reprieve stated in response to the announcement:

The scourge of the last government was the fact that they tried to cover up all the facts relating to torture complicity cases. In particular, the Binyam Mohamed litigation revolved around the government claiming public interest immunity in materials which were simply embarrassing. Now, the Prime Minister is saying that much of this inquiry will be held in secret. The only way in which public confidence is going to be restored in the intelligence services is if the public is able to see this inquiry functioning properly.

A second trigger for the article last week was the publication of a report by Human Rights Watch, “‘No Questions Asked’: Intelligence Cooperation with Countries that Torture,” which not only covered the UK, but also Germany and France, and in this second article, I examine Human Rights Watch’s timely reminder that, although the UK may well have been the Bush administration’s closest Western ally in the “War on Terror,” the involvement of other countries also deserves detailed analysis, and calls for accountability and the reform of currently flawed systems that fail to conform to those countries’ obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment.

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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.

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