Torture: Whitewash won't wash

18 January 2012

Author: 
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty

The DPP’s decision to conduct a criminal investigation into UK involvement in rendition to Libya only amplified the need for a proper independent judicial inquiry into our flirtations with torture. Less than a week later - it seems we might actually get one.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s cancellation of the Gibson process is more than welcome. It was set to be a far cry from the high-profile and full-blown judicial inquiries of recent times (Leveson, Gage, Lawrence etc); a secretive embarrassment in which neither torture victims nor the wider public could have any faith. The final word on what would be made public rested with the Government and victims would not be allowed to question those allegedly involved in their abuse. This is why Liberty would have nothing to do with it.

The police investigation has of course been cited as reason for pulling the plug on Gibson. But perhaps our concerns have also been heard? Mr Clarke could have just pressed pause on the process – but he’s opted instead to delete. The Government will still hold a judge-led inquiry eventually – hopefully one that we and torture victims can properly engage with. While we’re at it, would it be too much to ask for a similar bout of common sense on the equally disgraceful Secret Justice Green Paper? Torture revelations should encourage more scrutiny of the secret state – not less.

Ironically, Mr Clarke’s statement came moments after today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, during which Mr Cameron declared he could not understand yesterday’s Court of Human Rights ruling on Abu Qatada. Judges held that deporting Qatada to Jordan would breach his fair trial rights because a criminal retrial there would most likely be built on torture evidence for a second time. As with the various territories to which people were “rendered” by the CIA, torture is common place in Jordan. Qatada’s co-defendants have already been subject to it. If we’re so worried about past British involvement in torture that we want criminal investigations and public inquiries, why do we still cosy up to dubious regimes and seek to send suspects to their care? What’s the difference between rendition to torture in Libya and deportation to torture in Jordan? When will we learn that tyranny and torture actually breed more terrorism and that you don’t support the Arab Spring by doing dodgy deals with its opponents?

The reaction to Qatada has been predictably hyperbolic. More talk of unelected European judges making a mockery of British justice. One commentator suggested we withdraw from the European Convention altogether, replacing it with our own legislation. Which of its fundamental freedoms would he omit? Is it no torture or the right to a fair trial that we could live without? Even suspected terrorists deserve a fair hearing – not one built around torture evidence. That’s why Qatada should be prosecuted in Britain. Last time we checked, plotting terror attacks was still a very serious criminal offence here at home.