The British government has refused to answer questions about whether its spies were complicit in the torture of terrorist suspects, and only an independent inquiry can clear the air and restore public confidence, a committee of lawmakers said Tuesday.
Government officials say Britain does not condone or participate
in torture, but officials have avoided answering specific
allegations that Britain participated indirectly by obtaining
intelligence from suspects who had been tortured overseas, or
sending agents to visit suspects who suffered mistreatment in
Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights accused the
government of hiding behind a "wall of secrecy."
"In view of the large number of unanswered questions, we
conclude that there is now no other way to restore public
confidence in the intelligence services than by setting up an
independent inquiry into the numerous allegations about the U.K.'s
complicity in torture," the committee said in a report.
Seven former Guantanamo detainees are suing the British
government, accusing the security services of "aiding and
abetting" their extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment and
British police are also investigating claims by one of the
seven, Binyam Mohamed, that the MI5 intelligence agency fed
questions to his interrogators in Morocco, where he says he was
severely beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation and had his
genitals sliced with a scalpel.
Mohamed, an Ethiopia-born British resident, was detained in
Pakistan in 2002 and held in Morocco and later at the U.S. prison
camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was released without charge in
The British government has fought to keep some details of
Mohamed's treatment secret, arguing it could harm U.S.-U.K.
intelligence-sharing if the information was released.
The human rights committee, made up of lawmakers and peers from
the main political parties, said the government was "determined to
avoid parliamentary scrutiny and accountability" on the issue of
torture. It said ministers and intelligence chiefs had refused to
give oral evidence to the committee, and had given "partial
answers" to written questions.
The committee's chairman, Labour lawmaker Andrew Dismore, said
that "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," he said.
The committee said it found no claims that British agents had
ordered or participated in torture. But Dismore said there were
"extremely serious" allegations of complicity. These include
claims that British agents visited detainees in countries where
they were tortured, and that Britain provided intelligence that led
to the arrest of suspects in countries that practice torture.
The committee called on the government to follow the lead of
President Barack Obama and publish the instructions given to agents
about the detention and questioning of detainees overseas, as well
as all the legal advice it had received on the subject.
It said the Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees
Britain's MI5 and MI6 spy agencies, should report to Parliament
rather than the prime minister, to provide "proper ministerial
accountability to Parliament for the activities of the security