Committee calls for independent torture allegations inquiry

04 August 2009

In a report published today Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights says that "Ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and accountability" over allegations of possible UK complicity in torture.

The Committee concludes that "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."

The Committee report examines in detail the definition of "complicity" in international law against which the many allegations of torture should be judged.

The Committee says that over the last year Ministers have refused to give oral evidence to it on these issues, or have provided only general answers detailed questions. The Committee argues that ministerial accountability for security and intelligence matters is "woefully deficient". As a first step it recommends that the Cabinet Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) be established as Parliamentary committee with an independent secretariat and legal advice.

The Committee also recommends that the Government publish immediately all the instructions given to security service officers on the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas. It calls on Government to follow the US practice of publishing all relevant legal opinions provided to ministers.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The allegations we have heard about UK complicity in torture are extremely serious. It is unacceptable both for Ministers to refuse to answer policy questions about the Security Services, and for the Director General of MI5 to answer questions from the press but not from a Parliamentary committee. Establishing the ISC as a Parliamentary committee would establish ministerial accountability to Parliament.

"As to what may have happened in the past, general assertions of non-complicity are no longer an adequate response to the many detailed allegations. An independent inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of these stories, clear the air and make recommendations for the future conduct and management of the security services.

"The recent allegations should be a wake-up call to Ministers that the current arrangements are not satisfactory. We look to the Government to respond positively to our recommendations and not to continue to hide behind their wall of secrecy."

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