An independent inquiry into claims that the Government was complicit in torture is now necessary after the refusal by two senior Cabinet ministers and Britain's security chief to answer questions on the issue, a parliamentary inquiry has concluded.
Both David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary, refused three times to appear before a parliamentary committee examining allegations that the Government was complicit in the torture of terrorist suspects in Pakistan and Egypt. Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, also turned down the invitation three times, even failing to provide a written statement.
In a damning report into allegations that Britain received information obtained using torture, published today, the group of MPs and peers accuse the Government of being "determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny". It also states that Britain would be in breach of its human rights obligations if it is found to have "turned a blind eye" to the use of torture in obtaining evidence.
The Joint Human Rights Committee called for the publication of legal advice handed to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues concerning Britain's complicity in torture, as well as the advice given to security officers. All such instructions have been kept secret so far. Major reforms to increase the accountability of the secret services were also recommended to tackle the Government's "woefully deficient" approach.
"Our experience over the last year is that ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and accountability on these matters, refusing requests to give oral evidence, providing a standard answer to some of our written questions, which fails to address the issues, and ignoring other questions entirely," the committee states. "There is now no other way to restore public confidence in the intelligence services than by setting up an independent inquiry into the numerous allegations about the UK's complicity in torture."
The findings follow new evidence of MI5's alleged knowledge of the torture of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national now resident in the UK. High Court papers published last week revealed that an MI5 officer had been in Morocco on three occasions at a time when Mr Mohamed claims he was tortured there. Both the Attorney General and Scotland Yard have launched investigations into his case.
Andrew Dismore, the Labour chairman of the committee, said the constant secrecy from ministers was unacceptable. "An independent inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of these stories, clear the air and make recommendations for the future conduct and management of the security services," he said.
Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Mohamed's lawyer and the director of the legal charity Reprieve, accused ministers of "using secrecy and deliberate evasion to place themselves above the law".
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said the Government's refusal to answer the allegations was damaging Britain's reputation abroad. The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said Tony Blair, Mr Brown and Mr Miliband should all be questioned. "We need to see a full, public inquiry to establish just how far up Government knowledge of collusion in torture and rendition went," he said. "If Brown, Blair or Miliband had knowledge of Britain's involvement in this barbaric practice, we need to know."
A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government unreservedly condemns the use of torture as a matter of fundamental principle and works hard with its international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice worldwide. The Government's clear policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose."Reuse content