Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Government to compensate torture victims as official inquiry launched.

David Cameron has announced an unprecedented inquiry into whether or not British intelligence officers acquiesced in the torture of suspects during the war on terror.

Honouring a promise while in opposition that he would set up a judge-led inquiry into mounting evidence, emerging mainly from court hearings, the prime minister told the Commons he had asked Sir Peter Gibson – a former appeal court judge who privately monitors the activities of the intelligence agencies – to "look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11".

He said that while there was no evidence that any British officer was "directly engaged in torture" in the aftermath of 9/11 there were "questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done".

Though he did not point directly to a particular case, he made clear he was referring to evidence disclosed by the high court that MI5 knew about the abuse of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held incognito in Pakistan in 2002 before being secretly rendered to jails in Morocco, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

That is to be applauded. However, Cameron is also having to be very careful not to upset the Obama administration, who have already threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with the UK should any details of US torture be made public.

Cameron told MPs the government intended to publish a green paper setting out "proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, including addressing the concerns of our allies".

Government officials made clear ministers are seeking legislation that would in future prevent judges release information passed to MI5 by the CIA or by any other foreign intelligence agency.

He said the government wanted to pursue "mediation" with six former Guantánamo Bay detainees who had brought civil claims about their treatment – and who are demanding the disclosure of MI5 and MI6 intelligence. They will be offered out-of-court compensation.

So what kind of inquiry is this actually going to be? At the moment Cameron is saying that he will pay off people who claim to have been tortured rather than have the Americans embarrassed by having these claims made in a court of law.

And he is saying that he is going to change the law to prevent judges from demanding that information be made public if that information would embarrass our ally in the United States.

So we are not searching for the truth, we are having an inquiry that will only reveal that which does not embarrass Obama.

Obama's almost fanatical need to prevent us from ever finding out what the Bush administration did undermines the claim he made when running for office that he would restore the US to a nation of laws.

He does himself and the US no favours by sticking to this stance. And Cameron, who is to applauded for commencing this inquiry, undermines his own good work by promising that nothing will come out that ever embarrasses our American friends.

An inquiry that offers such a promise cannot be said to be seriously searching for the truth.

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