LONDON (Reuters) - A full independent inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture is the only way to address “woefully deficient” government accountability for security and intelligence services, MPs said on Tuesday.
A parliamentary committee on human rights criticised ministers for persistently ducking questions and avoiding scrutiny about Britain’s role in, and knowledge of, alleged torture of terrorism suspects, and said this must stop.
“Ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and accountability,” the committee said in a report. It said they had refused requests for oral evidence, provided “standard” answers to some questions which “failed to address the issues,” and in some cases ignored questions entirely.
“In view of the large number of unanswered questions ... there is now no other way to restore public confidence in the intelligence services than by setting up an independent inquiry,” it said in a report.
The government has been questioned repeatedly over the past five years about its involvement in torture and in rendition, which involves the unlawful transfer of suspects to a third country for interrogation.
It has always denied involvement in torture and has resisted holding a public inquiry despite allegations by several former detainees, some of them British residents, who say they were tortured while held abroad with the knowledge — if not the direct participation — of British intelligence officers.
After years of denials, the government admitted in February 2008 that two U.S. rendition flights did pass through a British-owned territory, but said it was unaware of this at the time.
A human rights group launched legal action against the government last week, accusing it of involvement in the rendition of terrorism suspect Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni from Indonesia via British territory to Egypt where he says he was tortured.
Attorney General Patricia Scotland said in March there were sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation into allegations by British resident Binyam Mohamed, who says intelligence officers were complicit in his torture in Morocco before he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.
The human rights committee heard evidence about Mohamed’s case, and several others, but did not pass judgement on them.
“The recent allegations about complicity in torture should be a wake-up call to ministers that the current arrangements are not satisfactory,” it said.
There was “no room for doubt,” it added, “that complicity in torture would be a direct breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations under UNCAT (the United Nations Convention Against Torture).”
The committee’s call for an inquiry echoes similar calls from Andrew Tyrie, the head of a parliamentary group investigating the issue of rendition, who has long been urging the government to be more open.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in an effort to reassure the public that secret services were operating within the law, said in March the government would publish details of their interrogation methods, but critics said this was not enough and an inquiry was needed.
Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by Richard Williams