Human rights law prohibits the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This not only includes prohibiting a State from itself torturing or ill-treating a person, it includes a prohibition on ‘out-sourcing’ torture.
‘Extraordinary rendition’ refers to the deliberate apprehension and transfer of detainees to foreign countries for interrogation, outside of the law, where there is a risk that the person might be tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment.
The practice of extraordinary rendition is an affront to the rule of law as it operates well outside the law and lacks any transparency and accountability.
We now know that during the ‘War on Terror’ many people were unlawfully transferred from one territory to another in circumstances where they were subjected to torture, horrendous conditions of imprisonment and ill-treatment. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has said it believes extraordinary rendition has taken place on a significant scale, and there is evidence of hundreds of CIA flights over Europe.
We first raised our concerns about UK knowledge and involvement in extraordinary rendition in 2005, calling on the police to open an investigation into UK complicity.
In February 2008, the UK Government acknowledged that UK airspace and territory (on the small island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean) had been used for extraordinary rendition flights.
In March 2008 officials stated they were unsure how many other times such flights had passed through UK airspace. This is despite previously consistent denials by the Government of any use of UK airspace.
On 27 February 2009 the UK Government admitted that it had yet again misled Parliament over extraordinary rendition, acknowledging that UK forces had handed over individuals in Iraq to US authorities who then illegally rendered them to an Afghan prison known for its inhuman conditions.
Liberty, over many years, campaigned for the Government to order an independent and wide-ranging inquiry into the UK’s involvement or knowledge of extraordinary rendition as well as other allegations of UK complicity in torture.
On 6 July 2010, the Prime Minister announced an inquiry, to be chaired by Sir Peter Gibson, into allegations of British complicity in torture. However, when the Evidence Protocol for the inquiry was finally published in July 2011, it was clear that the crucial final word on whether material could be made public rested not with a Judge but with the Cabinet Secretary, the Government’s chief civil servant. It was also made clear that the Government proposed torture victims would not be able to put questions to those allegedly complicit in their abuse – even by way of their legal representatives. In light of this, all the non-governmental organisations involved – including Liberty – and the torture victims withdrew their participation from the process.
On 18 January 2012, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke scrapped the Gibson Inquiry, claiming that it could not go on while the criminal investigation into UK involvement in rendition to Libya continued. But perhaps Liberty’s concerns – that the inquiry was really just a secret internal review – were also heard? Mr Clarke could have just pressed pause on the process – but he 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.
Justice and Security Act
The Justice and Security Act has made drastic changes to our system of justice and fair trials.
The Act not only overturns centuries of common law fair trial protections for those seeking to challenge the actions of the state, but also undermines the vital constitutional principle that no one is above the law, including the Government.