The Government is accused of blocking investigations into allegations of UK involvement in torture and rendition, contrary to its proclaimed wish to get to the bottom of the charges.
In July, the coalition announced a judge-led inquiry on torture and rendition, the moving of prisoners from one country to another for interrogation. In practice, however, the coalition has refused to release information regarding the UK's complicity in torture and rendition flights to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, even though it relates to decisions made under Labour. The all-party group put in Freedom of Information requests on the issue to the Ministry of Defence in 2008; these were rejected as were two subsequent appeals for the material.
The group requested details of diplomatic assurances between UK, US, Iraqi and Afghan governments on the handling of detainees, but was given material relating only to agreements between the UK and Afghanistan in 2006. Also, a request to see a review of detention practices in Iraq and Afghanistan following allegations that detainees had been handed to Americans to avoid responsibility for torture, was met with the release of just 17 per cent of the review material.
Many of the requests were attempts to find documentary evidence to back up revelations made by Ben Griffin, a former UK Special Forces member. Mr Griffin has said that detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan were routinely detained but not arrested so that they could be dealt with by the Americans.
In February 2008, the former foreign secretary David Miliband was forced to apologise to the House of Commons after admitting, contrary to earlier assurances, that Diego Garcia, the British-controlled island in the Indian Ocean, had twice been used for rendition flights in 2002. Britain had been told that no such flights had passed through its territory. The admission and apology prompted the group's request for further information.
Chair of the all-party group, Andrew Tyrie MP, said: "Without transparency there can be no closure on rendition. The scope and limits of UK involvement are still not known and won't be until information such as that requested by me under FOI is made available.
"For reasons still unclear, the Security and Intelligence Committee failed to get to the truth on this. Its primary duty was to bolster public confidence and it was unable to do so. There is now a greater culture of openness on these issues from the coalition government and I hope this is reflected in responses to FOI requests like this."
The Ministry of Defence refused to release the information on the grounds that it would risk prejudicing international relations and was therefore not in the public interest. The MoD also argued that the cost of finding the information would be prohibitive and that it would be a security risk.
However, Clive Stafford-Smith, founder of the human rights legal group Reprieve, said: "You can only justify secrecy when there's a threat to national security, but the only threat here is to politicians getting red faces. I don't think this government has any commitment to being open; this is more of the conflation of national security with political embarrassment.
"Whenever a government inherits the sins of the past they have this bizarre habit of covering up their mistakes, probably because they know they'll do the same thing."
Andrew Burgin, of the Stop The War Coalition, said: "The coalition government is clearly pursuing the same policies as New Labour in covering up the fact that the British government has been complicit in torture and rendition flights in UK airspace."Reuse content