||There was some media coverage on Thursday on ITV News, The Guardian and BBC News on the publication of the interim report of the Detainee Inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson into alleged British involvement in rendition and torture including the cases of Abdel Hakim Belhadj, Binyam Mohamed and other former Guantanamo Bay inmates. Sir Peter Gibson told BBC News that documents suggested the UK “may have been inappropriately involved in some renditions. That is a very serious matter.”
The Inquiry, set up in 2010, was established to investigate claims of “whether the UK Government, and its Security and Intelligence Agencies, were involved in, or aware of, improper treatment of rendition of detainees” held by other countries in counter-terrorism operations overseas as well as an examination of UK Government’s policy response. Outlined by the Prime Minister David Cameron in his letter to Sir Peter Gibson, “the particular focus is the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 and particularly cases involving the detention of UK nationals and residents in Guantanamo Bay.”
Based on a review of around 20,000 confidential documents disclosed to the Inquiry, the Inquiry identified in its report four themes: interrogation and treatment issues, rendition, training and guidance, and government policy and communications. The reports states that different themes or issues might have emerged if witness evidence had been available in order “to explain matters of potential concern satisfactorily” and to capture the “complete picture”.
Given the Inquiry was abandoned in January 2012, due to police investigations into allegations of complicity in rendition and torture, the report does not offer final conclusions. Instead, it sets out 27 issues the Inquiry feels need to be further examined. These include:
Whether a suitable mechanism was in place to monitor treatment to ensure detainees were not subjected to unacceptable standards of treatment;
Whether coordinated interview strategies remained within appropriate bounds, and if not, to what extent it may have amounted to complicity to using inappropriate techniques or threats; and
Whether the government and agencies became inappropriately involved in renditions
The report gives a chronology of relevant events and developments from 9/11 to the present day including Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers’ involvement in numerous interviews with detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and at the US detention facility at Guantanamo, and their concerns over the treatment of detainees.
On interrogation and treatment issues, the report states:
“In some instances UK intelligence officers were aware of inappropriate interrogation techniques and mistreatment of some detainees by liaison partners from other countries.
“Documents provided to the Inquiry show that in some instances there was a reluctance to raise treatment issues for fear of damaging liaison relationships.”
On rendition, the report indicates that the documents do not suggest a discussion on rendition policy per se in the early years following 9/11. It states that it would have wished to investigate the allegations of UK involvement in rendition in relation to two Libyan nationals, Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami Al Saadi further but that these inquiries were halted by the onset of criminal investigations.
The report states that in some instances, “the documents indicate that there was an opportunity for the UK to object to US proposals to transfer British nationals or UK residents. The issue arises as to whether such opportunities were missed or deliberately not taken.
“Documents received by the Inquiry also show that, in the early stages, the Government did not object to the transfer of British nationals and UK long term residents from Pakistan to the detention centres in Bagram and Guantanamo. This was, in part, because such transfers were not considered to be renditions but military transfers arising from armed conflict.
“The documents received by the Inquiry suggest that the [security] Agencies may have been involved in some instances of US renditions or post-rendition liaison where the appropriateness of such involvement may be open to question and/or where the involvement may have lacked ministerial approval. The documents include instances where the UK may have had an obligation or right to object to the rendition but, at least on the face of the documents, no UK objection was raised.”
On training and guidance, the report states that:
“The Inquiry has not identified significant grounds to doubt that the overall tenor of the instruction to personnel was that detainees must be treated humanely and consistently with the UK’s international legal obligations. But officers deployed on the ground, especially to an area of military operations, need clear guidance on when and with whom to raise concerns.
“It was not until 2010 that guidance addressing both liaison relationships and detainee interviewing was consolidated.”
However, the inquiry found that immediately before deployment to Afghanistan and Guantanamo, officers were given guidance that “focussed on avoiding the UK becoming the detaining power with custody of, and responsibility for, detainees and for ensuring that those detained would be treated humanely. For example, in November 2001, SIS Head Office explained that access to detainees in Afghan custody was subject to two strict conditions: a) that at no time were they to be under SIS control “as this would mean that we [SIS] would incur Geneva Convention responsibilities for them” and b) that they “would not be subject to coercion or torture and generally treated humanely”.”
Moreover, the Inquiry expressed concerns about the use of caveats in guidance issued to officers such as “if case officers are concerned that interviewees are being subjected to unacceptable treatment or detained in unacceptable conditions they should, wherever possible, draw this to the attention of the detaining authority”“. In addition, the inquiry indicated it was unclear whether guidance was given in rendition operations.
On policy and communications, the report raises concerns about whether security agencies could have identified patterns of detainee mistreatment more quickly; and whether the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) received complete and accurate information on detainee treatment issues, including rendition, from the Government and agencies.
The report further states:
“It does not appear from the documents received by the inquiry that any centralised record was subsequently maintained or that there was a system in place within either Agency or any relevant department for collating reports of ill-treatment from officers on the ground prior to 2005.
“It is recorded that on 10 January 2002 the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) accepted that the UK should not stand in the way of the US transferring British nationals to Guantanamo. Here, as elsewhere, the Inquiry was not able to explore the context of this exchange with Mr Straw or with other witnesses.”
With regards to Binyam Mohamed’s case, the Inquiry notes that new documents were uncovered when the Security Service undertook searches in response to the judicial review brought by Binyam Mohamed. This included documents on “US liaison reporting that Binyam Mohamed had been intentionally deprived of sleep while held in Pakistan”. Such information had not been provided to the ISC during its examination into rendition for its report published in June 2007. The Inquiry notes the ISC’s observation that “had the Security Service treated their enquiries with the same rigour as they did when legal disclosure was required, and had their records been fit for purpose, then the information would have come to light during their original inquiry.”
In a statement to MPs yesterday, former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, said the “oversight” of intelligence activities in relation to detainees was “not robust enough”.
Investigation of the UK’s alleged role in torture and rendition in the years following 9/11 is due to be re-launched and led by the ISC. Human rights campaigners have criticised the government’s decision as reneging on the promise of a ‘judge-led inquiry’ while further criticising the reticence shown by the ISC to confront allegations of abuse by the security agencies.