Ministers came under fresh pressure today over detailed allegations of complicity in torture, with Gordon Brown being asked whether the attorney general would investigate them and human rights groups joining MPs and peers demanding an independent inquiry. They were responding to today’s report by parliament’s joint committee on human rights which said the government could no longer get away with repeating standard denials of complicity by the security and intelligence agencies.
It said the foreign and home secretaries had refused three times to give evidence to the committee and that ministers must immediately publish instructions given to MI5 and MI6 officers on the detention and interrogation of suspects abroad.
William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, asked Brown to “clarify as a matter of urgency whether you intend to instruct the attorney general to consider … allegations of UK complicity in the light of the joint committee report, which documents allegations of UK complicity in torture in respect of detainees held in Pakistan, Egypt, and Guantánamo Bay, and in the case of Uzbekistan, raises concerns about the receipt of information which may have been obtained through torture”.
The former shadow home secretary David Davis said he had no doubt the UK had been complicit in the torture of terror suspects abroad, adding that refusing to reveal policy information “smacks of a cover-up”. He told the BBC he was sure both Brown and Tony Blair had seen evidence of UK complicity.
“Of course they will have done. The intelligence and security committee actually wrote a letter to the current prime minister some months ago. The joint committee on human rights has asked for that to be published. He won’t publish that.
“They’ve asked for them to publish the guidelines given to the intelligence agencies by ministers in the period between 9/11 and now. They’ve refused to do that either … If they’ve got nothing to hide why not publish the guidelines?”
Davis referred to the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was held in Guantánamo Bay before his return to the UK earlier this year. In a high court ruling last week, two judges showed that MI5 knew more about Mohamed’s secret imprisonment, where he says he was tortured, than earlier admitted. They have now asked David Miliband, the foreign secretary, if he stands by claims made in court on his behalf that if the judges’ seven-paragraph summary of CIA information about the case were disclosed, the US would limit intelligence-sharing with the UK and thus put British lives at risk.
There is a widespread view that the summary indicated what the British government knew about Mohamed’s treatment. Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “We need a full public inquiry to establish just how far up the chain government knowledge of collusion in torture and rendition went.”
Clive Baldwin, Human Rights watch senior legal adviser, said: “The UK government is getting away with hiding behind general, bland, responses. It is not good enough … If the government is to publish the new guidelines [on interrogation] why cannot it publish the old ones?”
The Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis insisted the UK did not have anything to hide and repeated that Britain did not “engage in, collude with or condone” torture, which he described as “abhorrent”.
He said other countries did not always have the same standards as the UK: “We can’t possibly stop working with those countries in terms of our national interest or the security interests of British citizens, but we also make it clear in every debate in the international community about acceptable standards that torture can never be justified.”