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Thu, 3 December 2020

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Top Tory Dominic Grieve accuses Theresa May of trying to hobble Parliamentary torture probe

Top Tory Dominic Grieve accuses Theresa May of trying to hobble Parliamentary torture probe
4 min read

A former Cabinet minister has accused Theresa May of trying to obstruct a Parliamentary probe into the torture of terror detainees.


Dominic Grieve, chair of Parliament's powerful Intelligence and Security Committee, said their inquiry into detainee mistreatment and rendition had had to wrap up early because it had not been able to interview former intelligence officers about what went on.

Two reports by the ISC today concluded that British officers had directly witnessed torture by American counterparts between 2001 and 2010 and questioned how top officials "did not recognise the pattern of mistreatment by the US".

But the committee said: "Restrictions were imposed by the Prime Minister on grounds of seniority and involvement in proceedings which reduced our list of potential witnesses to just four. Furthermore, even those individuals would not be allowed to give evidence on specific cases.

It added: "The terms and conditions imposed were such that we would be unable to conduct an authoritative Inquiry and produce a credible report. The committee has therefore concluded – reluctantly – that it must draw a line under the Inquiry. This is regrettable."

Mr Grieve, who was attorney general under David Cameron, said: "The Government has denied us access to those individuals."

Earlier this week, Mr Grieve also blasted the Government for leaking key details of a draft report to the press, saying the move appeared designed to deflect criticism of the intelligence agenies.

"The draft reports should have been kept on an exceptionally tight distribution within Government," he fumed.

"It appears that that procedure has been abused in order to leak details of the reports, so as to draw the sting on Thursday."

But a spokeswoman for Mrs May insisted there was nothing untoward with the Government's decision to block some witnesses, and stressed that the committee had been granted access to troves of official documents.

She said: "In certain instances, some officials that they were looking to speak to were junior at the time of the events in question. It isn't usual practice for a parliamentary committee to take evidence from junior officials.

"As the ISC said themselves, they took 50 hours of oral evidence, reviewed 40,000 original documents and devoted over 30,000 staff hours to the inquiry. They had access to government  material provided to the Gibson inquiry. This is an extensive report and the Government fully and willingly co-operated with it."

In a written statement to MPs, Mrs May meanwhile said the UK "does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (CIDT) for any purpose".

The Prime Minister added: "The ISC has noted, in the context of its historical report, a number of cases where intelligence and Armed Forces personnel are alleged to have threatened individuals in foreign detention.

"Such alleged behaviour is clearly unacceptable and the ISC’s Current Issues report recognises that improvements have been made to operational processes, fostering a greater awareness of risks and establishing enhanced oversight in relation to detainee issues."

LABOUR: JUDGE-LED INQUIRY 'INESCAPABLE'

The ISC's reports found that while there was no evidence UK officers "directly carried out physical mistreatment of detainees", there were nine cases where British agents made "verbal threats" to detainees, two cases "in which UK personnel were party to mistreatment administered by others", and more than 100 instances of British authorities being warned by other intelligence agencies of American mistreatment.

The ISC also uncovered three cases where British intelligence offered to help foot the bill to other countries to kidnap and detain suspects - a process known as extraordinary rendition - putting them at "real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

The cross-party group of MPs and peers urged ministers to review so-called "consolidated guidance" governing how Britain's intelligence agencies are supposed to behave.

Labour's Shami Chakrabarti seized on the row, saying: "It is now clear from the published reports that the Intelligence and Security Committee was denied access to individuals, severely limiting its ability to give as comprehensive a resolution to this scandal as it would have liked.

"Its criticisms of ongoing inadequacies on guidance relating to torture and rendition also makes a judge-led inquiry - that the Government is so keen to avoid - inescapable.”

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