As reported in The Guardian:
US hid UK links in CIA torture report at request of British spy agencies
References to Britain’s intelligence agencies were deleted at their request from the damning US report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, it has emerged.
A spokesman for David Cameron acknowledged the UK had been granted deletions in advance of the publication, contrasting with earlier assertions by No 10. Downing Street said any redactions were only requested on “national security” grounds and contained nothing to suggest UK agencies had participated in torture or rendition.
However, the admission will fuel suspicions that the report – while heavily critical of the CIA – was effectively sanitised to conceal the way in which close allies of the US became involved in the global kidnap and torture programme that was mounted after the al-Qaida attacks.
On Wednesday, the day the report was published, asked whether redactions had been sought, Cameron’s official spokesman told reporters there had been “none whatsoever, to my knowledge”.
However, on Thursday, the prime minister’s deputy official spokesman said: “My understanding is that no redactions were sought to remove any suggestion that there was UK involvement in any alleged torture or rendition. But I think there was a conversation with the agencies and their US counterparts on the executive summary. Any redactions sought there would have been on national security grounds in the way we might have done with any other report.”
The two main cases relevant to the involvement of Britain’s spying agencies related to Binyam Mohamed, a UK citizen tortured and secretly flown to Guantánamo Bay, and the abduction of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi, two prominent Libyan dissidents, and their families, who were flown to Tripoli in 2004 where they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
There is no reference at all in the Senate’s 500-page summary report to UK intelligence agencies or the British territory of Diego Garcia used by the US as a military base. But the executive summary contained heavy redactions throughout, prompting speculation that references to US allies has been erased.
In the wake of the Senate report, the UK government is coming under increasing pressure to order a more transparent inquiry into the actions of MI5 and MI6 amid claims of British complicity in the US torture programme.
Asked about the need for a full public inquiry, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, conceded yesterday that he was open to the idea if an outstanding investigation by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, which meets weekly in secret, leaves remaining questions unanswered. No 10 also suggested Cameron had not ruled this out if the ISC does not settle the torture issue.
The government had initially commissioned an inquiry by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look at the UK’s treatment of detainees after 9/11. However, he only managed a preliminary report raising 27 serious questions about the behaviour of the UK security services, before it was replaced by an investigation handled by the ISC in December last year.
The ISC’s report on the UK’s involvement in rendition after 9/11 will not, however, be completed before next year’s election, so it is unclear how many members of the nine-strong panel of MPs and peers will still be in parliament to complete the work.
The current chair, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, said that the ISC’s previous examination of the UK’s involvement in rendition in 2007, which absolved the agencies, had “quite rightly been severely criticised, because the committee at the time wasn’t given by MI6 all the material in their files”.
Rifkind said he was confident that that would not happen again. Yet the current ISC investigation will not examine the two key cases of the Libyan dissidents being kidnapped and delivered to the Gaddafi regime because they are the subject of a police inquiry.
MPs from all three main parties said the UK agencies’ requests for deletions from the US underlined the need for a more transparent public inquiry than the one being conducted by the ISC, which hands its reports to Downing Street for pre-approval.
David Davis, the Tory MP and former shadow home secretary, said: “Downing Street’s U-turn on its previous denial that redactions had taken place tell us what we already know – that there was complicity, and that it wasn’t reflected in the Senate report. “We know from the behaviour of the previous government with respect to the Binyam Mohamed case, that the term national security includes national embarrassment.”
Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem former children’s minister, also added: “It’s not good enough to kick it into the future and hope a future government will pick it up. We’ve had all sorts of semi-inquiries. Watching what’s happened in the last couple of days, as comments flip around, that’s the experience of campaigners who’ve been trying to get justice on behalf of people who have accused the British intelligence services of acting in this way.”
Diane Abbott, the Labour MP, said that “as a first step we need to know what was removed from the reports” and secondly more must be revealed about what UK government ministers knew at the time.
The US is at least trying to be honest about what went on,” she said. “To their shame, the UK authorities are still trying to hide their complicity in torture. We need to know how much ministers knew. And if they didn’t know why not?”
Earlier Abbott, who ran for the Labour leadership against both Miliband brothers, said ex-foreign secretary David Miliband needed to be “completely transparent” about his involvement in the era.
But Ed Miliband came to his brother’s strong defence as he was asked yesterday whether the former cabinet minister had “questions to answer”.
“He’s talked about these things in the past,” the Labour leader said. “I know how seriously he took these things in government. I know he answered questions about this in the House of Commons while he was in government. He is never someone who would ever countenance the British state getting involved in this sort of activity.”
Pressed on whether Tony Blair had questions to answer, Ed Miliband said: “Anyone who has read this report will be deeply troubled. I’m not going to speak for that report.
“The government has previously announced an inquiry into these issues, and then held off on the inquiry because there are court cases going on. It’s right to let those court cases take their course here.”
As reported in the Daily Mail:
Blair Must be Quizzed on Torture Say Labour Big Guns
Leading Labour figures yesterday demanded that Tony Blair face a grilling over torture.
As the clamour for a judge-led inquiry grew, Alan Johnson and Yvette Cooper called for the former prime minister to be quizzed on Britain’s role in the barbaric treatment of prisoners by the US.
It comes as the Daily Mail publishes a letter from more than 40 prominent figures, including politicians and authors, calling for David Cameron to secure the release of a British father of four held for 13 years without trial in Guantanamo Bay.
Shadow home secretary Miss Cooper also broke ranks to say she believed an investigation by a judge might be needed to get to the truth about torture.
Her intervention means the Labour front bench is on the verge of supporting an inquiry that could be hugely embarrassing for both Mr Blair and David Miliband – the brother of the party’s current leader.
MPs said former foreign secretary Jack Straw – who has been interviewed Jack Straw – who has been interviewed as a ‘witness’ by detectives investigating the rendition of two Libyan dissidents – must also be held to account.
Last night, former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve backed the calls for a judge-led inquiry once the police investigations are over, saying it was needed to provide ‘finality’.
And former shadow home secretary David Davis told Sky News a judge must take charge. He said: ‘One must understand the sheer weight of pressure that comes from the Establishment to try and stop this sort of stuff coming out, so I think this needs to be a judicial inquiry.’
At Westminster, the weekend was dominated by the continued fallout from last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee report, which detailed how detainees had been subjected to torture such as waterboarding.
Mr Cameron continues to cling to the position that an inquiry by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is the best way of finding out the level of Britain’s involvement.
In a publicity blitz, ISC chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind yesterday said he had asked the Senate committee to reveal the redactions, requested by British security officials, which led to all mention of MI5 and MI6 being removed from the 499-page report.
He also said his committee would ask any former or serving minister with a contribution to make to give evidence – putting the spotlight firmly on Mr Blair, Mr Straw and Mr Miliband.
Sir Malcolm added: ‘If they refuse to do so, that in itself would imply they have something to hide. If there is evidence they knew or were involved then of course they would be priority figures for our investigation.
‘If people deserve to be embarrassed it’s our job to embarrass them. We have a statutory obligation to carry out this task without fear or favour.’
However, he admitted that he had no way of compelling the Americans to hand over an uncensored copy of the report. He also conceded he could not say he was ‘confident’ of success.
Home Secretary Theresa May will be grilled today by the Home Affairs Select Committee on the extent of her contact with the Senate committee and whether she personally lobbied for any redactions.
ISC member George Howarth said it was right to seek details of redacted material but questioned why it should come from the US. He said the priority should be to seek answers directly from the Government and intelligence agencies. The Labour MP added: ‘It could take months and what we are asking for already exists in London.’
Miss Cooper said she doubted the ISC ‘have the capacity and the scope’ to carry out an inquiry, adding that her ‘instinct’ was that a judge-led process would still be required to ensure confidence.
She told the BBC that Mr Blair and other former ministers had ‘always said that they would co-operate with all investigations and have said that they would be very keen to do so’.
Miss Cooper added that it was important to get to the truth to make sure there was no ‘shadow of innuendo or allegations cast over the vital work that the [security] agencies rightly do to keep us all safe every day of the week’.
Former home secretary Mr Johnson said Mr Straw and Mr Blair should go before the committee.
Asked on the Andrew Marr show if they should give evidence, he said: ‘Yes, absolutely, yes.’
Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott also called for a judicial inquiry. He wrote in his Sunday Mirror column: ‘We must have a transparent system that reflects our values of fair play and justice, not one that turns a blind eye and deaf ear to claims of the abduction and torture of innocent people.’
Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon called for Mr Straw and Mr Blair to reveal what they knew about the CIA’s torture and rendition programme when they were in office.
He said: ‘Obviously it’s for them, it’s for former ministers to account for the relationship then. I hope they will co-operate with any parliamentary inquiry.’
Civil liberties groups and campaigning MPs accuse Britain of repeatedly turning a blind eye to torture during Mr Blair’s ‘war on terror’ – when he worked hand in glove with the Bush administration.
There are allegations that British agents were present when torture took place and that the UK helped with rendition flights. Yesterday, one of the two psychologists who were paid to run the interrogation programme by the CIA insisted UK agents were at torture sites. Dr James Mitchell, who devised the brutal ‘enhanced interrogation’ programmes, said: ‘I’d see their special operations people at the sites I would visit.’
Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable said the ISC and police investigations into the Libyan renditions should be allowed to ‘run their course’.
He added: ‘If at the end of it, it doesn’t appear that the truth is emerging, that people imagine there is some kind of cover-up, then of course a judge-led inquiry is the right way to proceed.’
Isabella Sankey of human rights group Liberty said: ‘Until our Government sets up a transparent, judicial inquiry, cover-up and official impunity will persist.’
As reported in The Independent:
Demands grow on David Cameron for judicial inquiry into UK role in US torture
David Cameron is under mounting cross-party pressure to approve a judge-led investigation into whether Britain was involved in the CIA’s torture of suspects during the “war on terror.”
The Prime Minister wants to wait until after an investigation by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) before deciding whether another inquiry is needed. But on Sunday, MPs expressed doubts over whether the ISC has the resources to do the job.
Following last week’s report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, many MPs are convinced that British security services witnessed and benefited from the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects, making them complicit even if they did not take part directly.
It emerged that Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary in the Blair government, has been questioned as a witness by police investigating the abduction of two Libyan dissidents in Britain who were handed over to the Gadaffi regime and tortured. The Metropolitan Police is believed to have sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Andrew Tyrie, Tory chairman of an all-party group on rendition, said: “That we are talking about here is kidnap and people being taken to places where they can be maltreated or tortured and I never thought in the 21st century that my country would be facilitating such practices, but they have done; the question is: how much?”
David Davis, the Tory former shadow Home Secretary, told Sky News: “I think this needs to be a judicial inquiry… it needs to be bigger than that [the ISC inquiry]. It needs to be completely independent of the establishment.” What we want out of it is something which says to everybody this will never happen again, indeed, it becomes politically fatal for it to happen on your watch.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, doubted the ISC had “the capacity and the scope” to carry out an inquiry and it was her “instinct” that a judge-led process would be required to ensure confidence. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat former Home Office minister, said: “Based on previous experiences, the ISC has not really delivered the goods. There’s been a suspicion that it has been slightly too close to those who it’s supposed to be overseeing.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Tory chairman of the ISC, tried to allay fears that his committee would carry out a whitewash, saying it would investigate “without fear or favour”. He added: “If our conclusions are that either serving ministers or former ministers or MI6 or MI5 or anyone else were complicit in torture, we will say so and we will indicate the evidence that has brought us to that conclusion.”
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Craig Murray, who was sacked as UK ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004 after alleging that Britain used intelligence obtained by the CIA under torture, said he attended a meeting at the Foreign Office where he was told that “it was not illegal for us to use intelligence from torture as long as we did not carry out the torture ourselves” and claimed this policy came directly from Mr Straw.
The former Foreign Secretary said: “At all times I was scrupulous in seeking to carry out my duties in accordance with the law.”
As reported in The Week:
CIA torture report redacted at request of British spies
Parts of the damning report into the CIA’s torture programme were redacted at the request of British intelligence agencies, Downing Street has admitted in a dramatic U-turn.
The government previously said that it had made no such requests, but a spokesperson from Number 10 has now admitted that requests were made on “national security grounds”.
However, the government denies that it sought to redact “any allegations of UK involvement in activity that would be unlawful”. The 500-page summary report on the CIA’s use of torture following the 9/11 attacks makes no reference to Britain or British intelligence agency actions, but the admission has raised concerns about British involvement in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” programme.
“Downing Street’s U-turn on its previous denial that redactions had taken place tells us what we already know – that there was complicity, and that it wasn’t reflected in the Senate report,” said Tory MP David Davis.
The government and intelligence agencies have always insisted that torture was not used to extract information from suspects. However, this will “fuel suspicions” that the redactions were made to conceal the way in which close allies of the US became involved in the global kidnap and torture programme,” The Guardian reports.
“The US is at least trying to be honest about what went on,” said Labour MP Diane Abbott. “To their shame, the UK authorities are still trying to hide their complicity in torture.
As a result of the admission, the government is coming under increasing pressure to launch a full judicial review into allegations that British spies at MI5 and MI6 were complicit in the American torture programme.
The calls have been led by Tory MP Andrew Tyrie who told the Daily Telegraph that a judge-led inquiry is essential in order to restore public trust in the intelligence agencies.
“Until that work is completed, until the scope and limits of our involvement are known, allegations – whether true or not – will continue to be made, corroding public confidence,” he said. ·
For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week’s news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.