London, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Prime Minister David Cameron announced yesterday the formation of an inquiry commission to investigate the extent of the involvement of elements from the British intelligence service (MI5) in the torture of British citizens accused of terrorism in detention centers outside the country. Cameron appointed retired Judge Peter Gibson to lead the inquiry that will also include two other members. He promised that it will start its work as quickly as possible, before the end of this year at most, and reach its conclusions within one year from the start of the inquiry.
Pressures on the British Coalition Government led by Cameron to form an inquiry commission to investigate allegations of the complicity of British intelligence agents in torturing persons arrested after 9/11 increased after around 12 persons who said they were tortured abroad with the knowledge of British intelligence agents filed lawsuits against the British Government. The latter will ask them to drop their lawsuits in return for paying them financial compensation. British Muslims who were interrogated on charges of terrorism say British intelligence sent them to countries like Pakistan and Morocco where they were tortured by investigators there to make them confess and some of them when they were detained in Guantanamo, among them Binyam Mohammad.
The Human Rights Organization had accused Britain, France, and Germany of using intelligence information obtained under torture in their fight against terrorism. It said in its report last week that these European countries’ use of information obtained from the intelligence services of countries which use torture harms the reputation of the EU as a whole. Judith Sunderland, the researcher in Western European affairs in the organization, said “Berlin, Paris, and London ought to have acted to end torture and not depend on foreign intelligence services that use it.”
An official at the British Foreign Office told Asharq al-Awsat that the inquiry headed by Gibson would issue a report at the end of the investigations that includes its recommendations. These will not be binding on the government and it will be up to Cameron to decide whether to implement them or not. But the British official pointed out that the “British Government will treat the recommendations very seriously and act on their basis.” It is not known yet whether the report will be made public or discussed in secret by government members for fear of endangering intelligence information.
Cameron said in his speech before the House of Commons yesterday that he would seek to publish the final report but added that some conclusions reached by the inquiry might be difficult to publish and said: “Let us be frank. It is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret.” He also pointed out that not all the sessions would be public and said “of course, some of the hearing will be in public. However, we must be realistic. Inquiries into our intelligence services are not like other inquiries. There is some information that must be kept secret: Information about sources, capabilities and partnerships.”
Though the 12 persons who have brought lawsuits against the British Government said they were tortured by intelligence agents outside the country with the knowledge of British intelligence agents, the inquiry will not include American or Pakistani intelligence elements. A government official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the inquiry “is about the extent of the allegations about our men’s knowledge and complicity in the torture allegations in countries that might not share with us the same values and criteria.” He added: “We do not investigate US or other intelligence agents but our own. But the inquiry commission will follow up all the allegations and see where they lead it.” The British Government also promised to offer compensations to those questioned in return for dropping their lawsuits before the judiciary.