UK government to announce torture complicity inquiry

UK government to announce torture complicity inquiry. Taliban attack NATO base in Jalalabad. Nepalese prime minister resigns. ACLU mounts legal challenge against US govenment over no-fly list. Blast in Chechen capital. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
30 June 2010

The British government has reportedly agreed to hold a judge-led inquiry into claims that British security services were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects. The most high profile case to date has been that of Binyam Mohammed, a British resident who claims he was tortured with the knowledge of MI5 following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002.

Downing Street has so far avoided being drawn on reports that the Prime Minister is planning to announce the details. Human rights groups who have long campaigned for an inquiry have welcomed the proposals.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty said: 'This investigation must be independent, judge-led and have broad powers to call evidence and make as much as possible publicly available. Only this kind of inquiry can end the slow bleed of embarrassing revelation and expensive litigation and draw a line under this shameful business once and for all.'

Reports of a UK inquiry into torture emerged only hours after a Human Rights Watch report released on Monday titled 'No Questions Asked' said the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom are using evidence obtained by torture to further their investigations. Human Rights Watch has called on the UK government to publicly repudiate its cooperation with foreign intelligence services that use torture.

In a separate development today, a Briton who alleged he was tortured in Pakistan with the complicity of UK security services won the right to appeal his terror conviction. Rangzieb Ahmed, whose fingernails were ripped out during detention, has previously accused MI5 of attempting to bribe him into withdrawing his torture complaints.

The openSecurity verdict: The decision to hold an inquiry has come after months of stalling and attempts by the foreign office to cover up MI5 complicity in torture. Earlier this year, Britain's second most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, condemned MI5 as having a 'dubious record on human rights' and covering up their involvement in the torture of Binyam Mohammed. The imminent announcement of an inquiry by the UK government will no doubt be a cause for concern for British security services and could cause tension with the US, with whom Britain shares classified information which, it is argued, could be put at risk if the work of British intelligence officials is put under the spotlight. 

At this stage, it remains unclear whether an inquiry will be held in public. On his blog, Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, warns that Whitehall officials are looking to deflect attention away from whether there is a 'policy' of complicity in torture. Murray claims that the security services are looking to once again 'cover-up' the embarrassing trickle of stories about torture by toeing the line that 'these individual cases were accidents.' Consequently, the human rights group Liberty has called for a broadly focused inquiry that looks beyond the failings of individual intelligence officers.

The concealment of complicity in torture, however, is not merely restricted to the UK. In the US, the Obama administration has refused to disclose information on the 'bitter fruits of the Bush administration's torture program', including arbitrary detention and extraordinary rendition. Although President Obama issued an executive order upholding the absolute ban on torture, the subsequent reluctance to order a thorough independent investigation into the Bush-era torture programme has damaged the credibility and commitment of the administration to human rights and its image abroad.

It remains to be seen whether the UK coalition government will honour its commitment to human rights or denigrate it by allowing Whitehall officials to suppress evidence of torture behind the cloak of national security. Already there are indications that the coalition government’s commitment to civil liberties and rights is not as strong as advertised.

The announcement of an inquiry comes on the back of the 23rd anniversary of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, which, among other things, underscores the point that torture has not been eradicated, despite the fact that 147 countries have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment. The utility of information extracted under torture, which is not only morally repugnant but illegal under international law, has frequently been useless and dangerously inaccurate. Instead of quelling insurgency, torture propels violence and cultivates a trust deficit both domestically and internationally, thereby endangering liberal democracies and their citizenry.

Taliban attack NATO base in Jalalabad

Taliban forces launched a daring attack on a NATO airbase in east Afghanistan on Wednesday, wounding two soldiers. A Taliban spokesman, however, contested the figures and claimed that more than twenty foreign and Afghan forces were killed today. The attack took place outside the city of Jalalabad, with gunmen setting off a car bomb and firing rocket-propelled grenades.

General David Petraeus was today confirmed by the US Senate in a 99-0 vote as the new commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus, who earlier warned of an escalation in violence in the coming months, said the security situation in Afghanistan is 'tenuous' though he affirmed his belief that progress was still possible.

Elsewhere, the British defence secretary today stated that British troops will be the 'last to leave Afghanistan.' His remarks differed from the emphasis Prime Minister David Cameron placed on the fastest possible withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating that 'we can't be there for another five years'. This apparent dissonance follows reports of disagreements between the prime minister and the defence secretary on the sacking of the chief of the defence staff, Jock Stirrup.

Nepalese prime minister resigns

Nepal's Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal announced his resignation on Wednesday in a televised speech to bring to an end the political deadlock in the country. The prime minister, who had the support of 22 political parties in parliament and over half of the 601 member in the assembly, was subject to intense pressure from the opposition Maoist party to step down.

The Maoists have the most members in the Nepalese assembly and were the largest party in the previous coalition government, which broke down following internal disagreements. Since then, the Maoists have remained in opposition, aggrieved about what they perceive to be a lack of effort on the part of the government to integrate former Maoist rebels into the Nepalese army.

ACLU mounts legal challenge against US govenment over no-fly list

The American Civil Liberties Union is mounting a law suit against the US government on behalf of ten American citizens or legal permanent residents who have been placed on a no-fly list. The Union says innocent people have been prevented from travelling, and in some instances, stranded abroad living in ‘involuntary exile.’ The group says people are not told the reasons for which they are placed on the no-fly list and cannot dispute it. The ACLU’s legal action will be against the FBI, the department of justice and the terrorist screening center.

Blast in Chechen capital

A bomb blast rocked the restive capital of Chechnya, killing one and injuring several others on Wednesday. Reports suggest that a suicide bomber approached a police cordon around a concert hall in Grozy before detonating his explosives. Today's blast is 'the first suicide attack in Grozny in more than a year.'

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