Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Home Secretary Theresa May emerges unscathed on a day laden with cross-party ironies

Ms May appeared unaware of any evidence of British complicity, which is odd since some British entanglement has been established

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Indy Politics

Politically, yesterday’s interrogation of Theresa May over possible British involvement in torture and rendition, covered by the US Senate report on its use by the CIA, was irony central.

The report covers events that happened when Labour was in power. Yet a Conservative Home Secretary was defending the “appropriateness” of an investigation by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which spectacularly botched the job seven years ago. Three Labour members of the Home Affairs Committee pressed the case, reasonably enough, that for “transparency’s” sake any enquiry should be judge-led. This is the course also recommended by three very senior Tories. Even for close students of parliamentary cross-currents, this was pretty unusual, even pleasing. What happened to party solidarity, we wondered?

Until it was the turn of Labour’s Ian Austin, that is. Heavily redacted though it is, many serious people think the Feinstein report speaks rather well of the US’s ability to shed light on one of its darkest corners. Not so Austin, who, possibly mindful that these events took place on Labour’s watch, decided to rubbish the report – or at least the “mad conspiracy theories” and attempts by “liberal, hand-wringing journalists” to undermine Western security on the basis of it. Hadn’t, for example, many senior US figures said how useful what he euphemistically called the “enquiries” conducted by the CIA had been?

Though cautious, Ms May rather liked all this. There had certainly been “discussion in the US” about how useful it had all been. Similarly she appeared unaware of any evidence of British complicity, which is odd since at least one court case and an apologetic statement by a Labour Foreign Secretary has established at least some British entanglement.

Some time was wasted on the question of whether Ms May herself had asked for any redactions. (She hadn’t.) Unnecessarily, since No 10 has already has admitted to discussions on the redactions. And confronted by the Lib Dem Julian Huppert with the fact that David Cameron had himself once thought that a judge-led enquiry was the way to get to the bottom of all this, Ms May said rather lamely that “circumstances change”.

But this was all just the warm-up. For at his most magisterial, the Committee chairman Keith Vaz announced that he would be summoning Ms Feinstein herself – along with the committee’s “ranking Republican” – to give evidence. Vaz with an illustrious co-star! That will surely be worth watching.

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