The result of the News International scandal should be that senior News International figures and senior policemen go to jail. It won’t be – the result will be a public inquiry, pushed back till long, long after media interest has abated, and concluding regrettable mistakes were made, by comparatively junior people.
Hardly any of the media noticed the announcement yesterday that the Gibson inquiry into UK government complicity in torture will finally start to get under way. This should be a dreadful warning – particularly not to be misled by the Nick Clegg device of valuing a “judge-led” inquiry as the indicator of worth. Gibson is a judge – and was also the Commissioner for the Security Services, asked now to “independently” investigate whether he was himself complicit or ineffective. Similarly Hutton was a judge – a Northern Irish one, so close to the security services as to be a thoroughly reliable tool for government.
Anybody who thinks that the Tory Party and Murdoch don’t already have a tame judge firmly in mind, is a complete fool.
Gibson’s protocols and terms of reference are a complete farce. As I told you months ago, after I was tipped off by senior British diplomats, they will only accept evidence related firmly to individual named detainees, rather than consider the general policy of cooperation with extraordinary rendition and receipt of intelligence from torture chambers abroad. The US Government will have a veto over what can be revealed by UK officials and documents about CIA involvement – and, as the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement and the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme is the entire context of the torture policy, that already renders the inquiry useless. The Cabinet Secretary – ie the government – and not the judge, will decide which documents can be made public.
The Guardian deserve congratulations for doing an excellent job in reporting this.
So restrictive are the terms under which the inquiry will be conducted, however, that Justice, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists, warned that it was likely to fail to comply with UK and international laws governing investigations into torture. Eric Metcalfe, the organisation’s director of human rights policy said: “Today’s rules mean that the inquiry is unlikely to get to the truth behind the allegations and, even if it does, we may never know for sure. However diligent and committed Sir Peter and his team may be, the government has given itself the final word on what can be made public.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “When is an inquiry not an inquiry? When it’s a secret internal review. The use of torture by great democracies was the most shaming scandal of the war on terror. Today’s disappointing announcement suggests ministers, not independent judges will decide what the public is entitled to know. It is very hard to see the point of wasting public money on such a sham.”
Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve, said the inquiry was heading for a whitewash, with the US authorities in effect deciding what the public should learn. “Virtually nothing will be made public that is not already in the public domain,” he said. “This is meant to be an inquiry into British complicity into torture and rendition, almost all of which was complicity with the Americans. Yet these terms give America a veto on much of what should be public.”
Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who also represents several victims, described the inquiry as “a wholly inadequate response to the gravest of state crimes – torture”. She added that while the Ministry of Defence exposed the torture of Baha Mousa to public scrutiny “the intelligence services, in contrast, are being allowed to hide”.
Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP for Chichester, who chairs the all- party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, said: “Sir Peter Gibson has stated that he will not be asking the US or other foreign organisations for information on rendition. Without this information, his examination of other aspects of rendition is likely to be incomplete. The plain and highly regrettable fact is that the UK government is not in possession of all the facts on its own involvement in rendition. This is what government departments have confirmed to me.”
Keith Best, chief executive of the charity Freedom from Torture, said: “Effective survivor participation demands an open process. Every decision along the way that privileges secrecy will erode the inquiry’s capacity to deliver justice to victims of torture that Britain knew about or was otherwise complicit in.”
Amnesty International said the government appeared to have “squandered the opportunity to address a mounting pile of allegations of involvement of its agents and policymakers in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees” in a way that ensures public confidence.
There was no immediate response from the inquiry team to the criticisms it is facing.
It gets worse. The inquiry’s offices, at 35 Great Smith St, are in a Cabinet Office building. It is staffed not by people from the judicial service but by central government civil servants. All the inquiry’s computers are Cabinet Office computers which are an integral part of the Whitehall central government computer network, and the inquiry’s papers can be accessed by MI5, MI6, the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office without leaving their desks. I contacted the Inquiry last night offering to give evidence – and some staff in the FCO had copies of my email this morning. That is how “independent” the Gibson Inquiry is.
Consider this – the Secretary of the Inquiry is Alun Evans, former Director of Strategic Communications in No. 10 and before that John Precott’s spin doctor. The secretariat staff:
Four are from the Cabinet Office, two from the Ministry of Defence and one from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. .
An independent inquiry?
This is such a sick joke it is beyond belief.
My present thought is, that while I very much respect those who are boycotting this inquiry, yet given that I have an eyewitness account that the Foreign Office specifically sought to twist the terms of reference to exclude my evidence, it would be crazy to make them happy by boycotting. But nor do I wish to submit unsolicited written evidence that the Inquiry can simply bury in Volume III Appendix B p. 4278-4291. Their website says specifically that Crown Servants and Former Crown Servants will normally be approached by the Inquiry – they are anxious not to encourage whistleblowers to come forward. So I have written to them, offering to give evidence but putting the onus on them to call me. This is what I sent:
I was, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the only senior British civil servant who entered a formal written objection to my Secretary of State on the subject of our complicity in torture, and in doing so I specifically referred to our being in breach of the UN Convention on Torture.
I submitted evidence and gave oral testimony on the UK’s policy of complicity in torture to the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into Extraordinary Rendition in Brussels, and the Council of Europe Inquiry into Extraordinary Rendition in Strasbourg, as well as the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. I note that your guidance says that normally your Inquiry will take the initiative to call former crown servants. I am therefore making contact with you, so the Inquiry has my contact details, and I expect to be called.
Please acknowledge receipt.
HM Ambassador to Uzbekistan 2002-4
I am going to approach the FCO for assistance over this provision:
Current and former civil and crown servants called as witnesses can expect to receive legal and financial support from their current or former Department or agency.
I have a feeling we will find that whistleblowers are excluded from this provision!
Actually, you could not invent a more farcical “independent” inquiry if you tried to write the blackest of satires. Yet, if there was one area where I honestly did believe that the Lib Dems and even the Tories would be better than New Labour, it was over civil liberties. Plainly we just don’t have career politicians who care about freedom at all, or any principle other than their personal power and self-enrichment.
The total corruption of this country’s political community is the lesson from both the immunity of the Murdoch empire, and the Gibson non-inquiry into state complicity in torture.