The Gibson Inquiry on rendition and torture

The recent discovery of CIA documents in Gadaffi’s abandoned offices in Tripoli provides startling new evidence confirming that the UK was complicit in extraordinary rendition of individuals to Libya. It looks like this will become part of the Gibson Inquiry, set up in 2010 by David Cameron to look at the ways British intelligence services worked with Libya in providing information and suspects.

The terms of this inquiry however have been almost diametrically opposite the open, transparent accountability that would produce trustworthy findings. As human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce already noted in her book last year, Dispatches from the Dark Side:

The government has given [Gibson]…the authority to set the inquiry’s terms. There is nothing in David Cameron’s announcement that guarantees that any of it will be heard in public.

As the Guardian noted in an editorial recently:

this is not an inquiry in the sense that Sir Brian Leveson’s inquiry into phone hacking goes under that name. As Liberty says, torture victims will have no right to put questions to those allegedly complicit in their abuse, even through lawyers. They will not be allowed to know what evidence is given by the security services on their torture and illegal rendition, while the final word on whether any of this will be made public rests not with the judge but the cabinet secretary. In a proper judicial inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson, a former intelligence services commissioner who had the task of monitoring MI5 and MI6, would be appearing not as a judge but as a potential witness.

Ironically and amazingly, one of those tortured is now a Libyan rebel, and presumably will be part of a new government that is sure to receive western backing:

Belhaj was detained by the CIA in Thailand in 2004 following an MI6 tipoff, allegedly tortured, then flown to Tripoli, where he says he suffered years of abuse in one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons.

It emerged on Monday that MI6 had been able to tell the CIA of his whereabouts after his associates informed British diplomats in Malaysia that he wished to claim asylum in the UK. Belhaj was then allowed to board a flight for London and abducted when the plane called at Bangkok.

This is about more than whether the UK (and USA) dealt with dodgy regimes. I’m pretty sure no-one will be to surprised at that. It’s the extent to which these dodgy regimes were snuggled up and and used to do dirty work, illegally and in contravention of human rights. And it’s the extent to which the UK, whether under Labour or a Conservative coalition, was complicit in the US’s war on terror (again, whether under Bush or Obama). Finally, it’s about the need for openness so that those who were subject can get open redress from governments that made these actions occur at the policy level, not the “bad apple” level.


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