Despite strict prohibitions in law, the UK has taken advantage of torture on a significant scale. And now the commitment to an independent judicial inquiry has been droppedby David Allen Green / September 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
Torture is supposed to be an absolute wrong: a thing wrong at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. That is not only an ethical claim; it is the position in law. The absolute bar is the explicit position of all the relevant international conventions, and—exceptionally among the protections we enjoy under the European Convention and Human Rights Act—the Article 3 bar on “torture… inhuman or degrading treatment” is unqualified. No caveats or provisos: no ifs or buts.
Very few legal prohibitions come shorn of all exceptions in this way, and so—you might think—the authorities would understand that any thought of complicity in torture is unacceptable, too. That, however, is not the case, even in what are called liberal democracies.
The UK, for example, has been recently taking advantage of torture, and on a significant scale. This is not the claim of some hyperbolic campaign group but the measured 2018 finding of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. The figures disclosed are horrifying. Between 2001 and 2010 the committee found 13 incidents where British personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others.
It gets worse. There were 198 cases where UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services that had been obtained from detainees who they knew (or should have known) had been mistreated. There were 232 cases where UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to liaison services after they knew or suspected mistreatment. This is systemic complicity in torture. These totals were only what the committee could ascertain. It had not been able to see every document or interview all individuals. The authorities did not always co-operate fully: the real picture could be worse.
With much of the evidence—including the figures I quote—dating back to the last Labour government and the post-9/11 years, it would not have been hard in political terms for Conservative ministers to make a clean break. But in the face of the findings, the government has proved evasive. The committee recommended a judge-led inquiry, and the government initially indicated that this would happen.
But in July, while Westminster was distracted with Brexit and the Tory leadership battle, this commitment to an independent judicial…