Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Gibson inquiry into MI5 and MI6 torture collusion claims abandoned.
Ken Clarke promises another judge-led inquiry into claims by two Libyans once police investigations are completed.
• Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
• guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 January 2012
Ken Clarke tells the Commons the judge-led inquiry into allegations of British collusion in the torture of detainees is to be abandoned.
The judge-led inquiry into allegations of British collusion in the torture of detainees has been abandoned for the time being, Ken Clarke has announced.
The investigation led by Sir Peter Gibson into the role of MI5 and MI6 officers, which has so far carried out only preparatory research, will publish a short report of its preliminary findings and then close down, the justice secretary told the Commons.
Last week the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police said they would look into claims that the intelligence agencies were involved in the secret rendition of two Libyans back to Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2004.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a commander of anti-Gaddafi forces, and Sami al-Saadi claimed they were tortured after being returned to Libya in a joint US/UK operation.
Clarke told the Commons the new police investigations would have further delayed the start of the Gibson inquiry.
"There now appears no prospect of the Gibson inquiry being able to start in the forseeable future. So following consultations with Sir Peter Gibson we have decided to bring the work of his inquiry to a conclusion," he said.
The inquiry would "provide the government with a report on its preparatory work to date, highlighting particular themes or issues which might be the subject of further examination," the justice secretary said.
"The government is clear that as much of this report as possible will be made public. The government fully intends to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry once all police investigations have concluded."
Clarke said Scotland Yard detectives had taken three years to decide there was insufficient evidence to bring charges in relation to claims by Guantánamo Bay detainees.
[It would would be unreasonable to keep the Gibson inquiry panel waiting for a further unknown period. Any new inquiry "may require a fresh group of people to carry it out", he said.
Many NGOs and civil liberties groups had already declined to participate in the Gibson inquiry because they had grave doubts about its powers and the transparency of its procedures.
Gibson said: "[We] regret the fact that we are not able to complete the task we were asked to do by the prime minister. However, we recognise that it is not practical for the inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations.
"The inquiry has, however, already done a large amount of preliminary work, including the collation of many documents from government departments and the security and intelligence agencies.
We welcome the opportunity to bring together the work we have done to date. The inquiry will therefore produce a report of our work, highlighting themes which might be subject to further examination.
"This task will ensure that the work we have done is not wasted and we hope that it will materially assist the future inquiry that the government intends to establish."
Human rights groups said they hoped the move would mark a rethink of the investigation process.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights watchdog Liberty, said: "We welcome the sensible decision to end the embarrassment of a so-called inquiry in which neither torture victims nor human rights campaigners had faith.
"Let's remember that it was lawyers, journalists and campaigners that uncovered the Libyan rendition files now to be properly investigated by police and prosecutors. Such revelations should lead to more scrutiny of the secret state, not the shutting down of open justice as proposed in the government's current green paper."
Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, said the inquiry "simply did not have the powers or the independence to get to the truth.
We therefore look forward to working with the government to ensure that an inquiry with real clout and real independence is established once these investigations have concluded. This is essential to ensuring that we find out who signed off on Britain's collaboration in some of the worst excesses of the 'war on terror'."
Richard Stein, the head of human rights at law firm Leigh Day & Co, who is representing the two Libyans, said: "It was ill-conceived from the beginning, the government reserved the right for the final say on what material would be published, and did not allow for cross-examination or any other way of testing the evidence from members of the UK security services, which was to be given secretly.
"If there is to be a future inquiry following the police investigations into my clients' allegations, then it must have credibility, allowing the official version of events to be challenged."
The parliamentary intelligence and security committee will meet on Thursday to discuss the implications of the government's decision.
It has already began to investigate MI6's links with Gaddafi's regime, notably the part played by British intelligence officers in the rendition to Tripoli of the two Libyan dissidents in 2004, shortly before Tony Blair visited the dictator.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee's chairman, said: "The committee's investigation of the UK's wider intelligence relationship with the Libyans (an issue which did not fall within the scope of the detainee inquiry) will continue."