It was widely reported today that a number of well-respected British lawyers and civil liberties organisations are questioning the integrity of the much-trumpeted inquiry into UK spy complicity in torture.
And about time too. One hopes this is all part of a wider strategy, not merely a defensive reaction to the usual power play on the part of the British establishment. After all, it has been apparent from the start that the whole inquiry would be questionable when it was announced that Sir Peter Gibson would be chairing the inquiry.
Gibson has certain form. He was until recently the Intelligence Services Commissioner — the very person who for the last five years has been invited into MI5, MI6 and GCHQ for cosy annual chats with carefully selected intelligence officers (ie those who won’t rock the boat), to report back to the government that democratic oversight was working wonderfully, and it was all A‑OK in the spy organisations.
After these years of happy fraternising, when his name was put forward to investigate potential criminal complicity in torture on the part of the spies, he did the publicly decent thing and resigned as Commissioner to take up the post of chair of the Torture Inquiry.
Well, we know the establishment always like a safe pair of hands.… and this safety has also been pretty much guaranteed by law for the last six years.
Ever since the Inquiries Act 2005 was pushed through as law, with relatively little press awareness or parliamentary opposition, government departments and intelligence agencies have pretty much been able to call the shots when it comes to the scope of supposedly independent inquiries.
Interestingly, Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary who now chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, has also weighed in to the debate. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he stated:
“I cannot recollect an inquiry that’s been proposed to be so open as we’re having in this particular case. When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 – the prime minister has made quite clear – can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evidence?”
This from the senior politician who has always denied that he was officially briefed about the illegal assassination plot against Colonel Gaddafi of Libya in 1996; this from the man who is now calling for the arming of the very same extremists to topple Gaddafi in the ongoing shambles that is the Libyan War; and this from the man who is also loudly calling for an extension of the ISC’s legal powers so that it can demand access to witnesses and documents from the spy organisations.
No doubt my head will stop spinning in a day or two.…