Gibson inquiry concludes UK government and intelligence agencies had been involved in so-called rendition operations
Andrew Tyrie

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP: ‘It is deeply shocking that Britain facilitated kidnap and torture’. Photograph: Felix Clay

Former government ministers and intelligence chiefs face a series of disturbing questions over the UK’s involvement in the abduction and torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11, an official inquiry has concluded.

In a damning report that swept aside years of denials, the Gibson inquiry concluded that the British government and its intelligence agencies had been involved in so-called rendition operations, in which detainees were kidnapped and flown around the globe, and had interrogated detainees who they knew were being mistreated.

MI6 officers were informed that they were under no obligation to report breaches of the Geneva conventions; intelligence officers appear to have taken advantage of the abuse of detainees; and Jack Straw, as foreign secretary, had suggested that the law might be amended to allow suspects to be rendered to the UK.

After examining about 20,000 documents which outlined allegations involving around 200 detainees, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson, and his team raised 27 questions that they said would need to be answered if the full truth about the way in which Britain waged its so-called war on terror was to be established – and the heads of MI5 and MI6 were told they have a month to respond.

The questions include:

• Did UK intelligence officers turn a blind eye to “specific, inappropriate techniques or threats” used by others and use this to their advantage in interrogations?

• If so, was there “a deliberate or agreed policy” between UK officers and overseas intelligence officers?

• Did the government and its agencies become “inappropriately involved in some renditions”?

• Was there a willingness, “at least at some levels within the agencies, to condone, encourage or take advantage of a rendition operation”?

The report also questions whether MI5 and MI6 provided the intelligence and security committee (ISC) with accurate, complete information about the mistreatment of detainees in the past, “or sometimes whether they were notified at all”.

However, the answers will be provided not to Gibson, but to the ISC, the secretive Westminster cross-party body that is supposed to provide oversight of the agencies. After promising for more than three years that an independent judge-led inquiry would examine the many allegations that the intelligence agencies face, the government announced on Thursday that it was handing the investigation over to the ISC.

That decision was immediately condemned by human rights groups who said that instead of drawing a line under the episode, the government was exposing itself to the allegation that it was engaging in a cover-up.

As a result of the decision to hand over to the ISC, it remains unclear whether any of the answers to Gibson’s 27 questions will ever be made public. The committee’s hearings are almost always behind closed doors, and its reports are censored before publication, in consultation with the agencies upon which it reports.

“It is deeply shocking that Britain facilitated kidnap and torture,” Andrew Tyrie, a Tory backbencher and chairman of the Treasury select committee, told MPs. “The decision to abandon this judge-led inquiry will come to be seen as a mistake.”

Tyrie said that an investigation by the ISC will never command public confidence, a criticism that was echoed by human rights groups. Amnesty International said: “Handing the investigation over to the ISC raises the prospect that much of the truth may remain buried.” Human Rights Watch said: “The ISC has neither the independence nor the transparency to carry out such an important task.”

Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke told MPs that the inquiry’s report paints a picture of government and intelligence agencies struggling to adapt to the new realities faced in the wake of 9/11 and said it was a matter of “sincere regret” if “mistakes and failures were made”.

“It is now clear that our agencies and their staff were in some respects not prepared for the extreme demands suddenly placed upon them,” he said.

 

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