The parliamentary joint committee on human rights has this morning published its report on UK complicity in torture. The headline is a call for a full public inquiry on the subject.
The most salient fact in the entire report does not feature prominently. Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson both refused to appear before the committee to answer the damning evidence given by witnesses, myself included.
Arguably, if we had a proper system of parliamentary accountability, the JCHR inquiry would have itself been the public inquiry they want. For ministers simply to refuse to appear speaks volumes for the government’s evasiveness on torture, and determination that the truth should not come out. The greatest danger of this is that individual MI5 and MI6 officers are under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for collusion with torture. We will end up with the Abu Ghraib result, with minions being jailed, while the politicians who authorised the torture policy get off scot free.
Not that I believe a public inquiry will achieve much – it will be yet another whitewash, like the John Chilcot Iraq “Inquiry” entirely consisting of safe establishment yes-men. But it would be a step on the way to public acknowledgement of the role of Straw and Blair in bringing back torture as an accepted tool of governance in the UK.
The Committee report might have been expected to be scathing about Johnson’s and Miliband’s refusal to give evidence. In fact the report spends far more time attacking me for the vigour of my efforts to give evidence:
Mr Murray was a convincing witness when he appeared before us and his allegations are supported by some documentary evidence. His credibility has not been enhanced by his somewhat bizarre dealings with the Committee, however. When he first approached us about giving oral evidence we asked him for a written memorandum, which is standard practice for select committees. His response was to publish a story on his blog entitled “Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Commission Struck By Cowardice” which alleged that we were consulting party whips about how to deter him from giving oral evidence.40 This
was entirely untrue, as our subsequent decision to ask him to give oral evidence, despite his
comments, demonstrated. In May, Mr Murray published further comments on his blog,
suggesting that our Chair was a “stooge” of the Uzbek regime and had somehow been
implicated in his dismissal as UK ambassador.41 Again, these comments are entirely
without substance and may only serve to damage Mr Murray’s credibility and reputation.
I have to say this smacks of desperation in an effort to discredit evidence which the Committee admits was both “Convincing” and backed by documentation. Whoever drafted this also uses the old tricks of misrepresentation. I never said the Committee was “Consulting party whips”. I said that New Labour whips were leaning on New Labour members of the Committee not to hear my evidence – that I know for certain is true. I tried to give the same evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2005 and was refused. The JHRC took three meetings spread over a month deciding whether to hear me. If we had not brought pressure, I should be quite clear that I do not believe that they would have called me.
As for Committee chair Andrew Dismore, I stand by my posting about Dismore, his links to the Uzbek Embassy and the speeches he has made in Parliament on Uzbekistan promoting the Uzbek government line.
I believe it was wrong of Dismore not to mention his links to the Uzbek Embassy in chairing the evidence session I gave. Interestingly the Committee’s carefully worded paragraph does not actually deny Dismore’s links to the Uzbek Embassy.
It amazes me that the Committee spent so little energy in decrying the refusal to testify of Johnson and Miliband, to cover up a policy of torture, and so much energy attacking me for comments about the committee on my blog. What a bunch of self-regarding political pygmies they are.
In fact, despite the de rigeur attack on Craig Murray’s credibility, my testimony forms part of the very weft of the whole report. Remove the sideswipe at me, and it is a very good report. In particular, no amount of rubbishing me could wish away the existence of the Michael Wood letter to me, giving the FCO’s legal endorsement of the use of torture material.
I leaked this classified document by publication to the internet over four years ago. It was instantly posted and mirrored by thousands of sites around the World, making it impossible to keep it secret. But this report published today is the first official acknowledgement of the existence of this document and first official attempt to come to terms with what it means. It also, of course, shatters the government’s argument that I am making it all up (a line Jack Straw still regularly deploys).
The Committee made excellent use of the Michael Wood letter:
Other key unpublished documents are copies of the relevant legal advice given to the
Government about the relevant human rights standards concerning torture and complicity
in torture. As we mentioned above, there is already in the public domain the
memorandum from the Senior Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office, Michael Wood, dated
13 March 2003, which says:
Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that
his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on
Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe
that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.
I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing
is Article 15 which provides [for the inadmissibility in evidence of any statement
which is established to have been made as a result of torture.].
This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement
established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as
89. We accept, as Professor Sands pointed out in his evidence to us, that this short memo
responding to a specific query should not be treated as a formal, fully reasoned legal advice.
However, we are concerned that this response from the Foreign Office’s most senior lawyer
makes no mention of the requirement in Article 4(1) UNCAT that States criminalise
“complicity or participation in torture”. As Professor Sands commented: “In a formal and
limited sense Mr Wood’s response is correct, but it seems not to address the issue in the
round. … there may be circumstances in which the receipt or possession of information
that has been obtained by torture may amount to complicity in torture, within the meaning
of Article 4(1).”
90. The memo from the Foreign Office Legal Adviser raises a number of important
questions. As Professor Sands also said in his evidence, it may well be that Sir Michael
Wood, other lawyers or the Law Officers address the meaning and effect of Article 4 of
UNCAT in other more reasoned opinions, but this memo does not address that and
therefore “it does not give a complete answer.”125 We do not know whether other, more
reasoned advices were given to ministers or to the intelligence and security services. It is
important, in our view, to ascertain whether the Government was ever advised as to the
possibility that systematic reliance on information which may have been obtained under
torture risks at some point crossing the line into complicity in torture for which the UK
would be responsible under the relevant legal standards.
While a public Inquiry would be useful, I believe the major part of the truth about our ministerially approved policy on the use of torture could simply be revealed by releasing the minutes of my meeting of 7 or 8 March 2003 with Sir Michael Wood, Linda Duffield and Matthew Kydd at which I was told of the policy. The top copy includes a manuscript note which makes plain that Jack Straw had ordered the meeting and gives his views. I suggested that the Committee call for this minute, but they do not seem to have done so.
A final point worth mentioning is the continued UK media blackout. I have given 17 media interviews on the Committee’s report so far. including to CNN, but they have almost all been foreign. Only LBC radio in the UK has interviewed me. Neither do I exist in any of the press reports except a brief mention in the Herald.