UK torture inquiry says politicians will face scrutiny

US government to be pressed to hand over redacted sections of CIA torture report

British politicians, either those now serving or those who were in office during Labour’s years in power, will be held to account if they were “complicit in torture”, the head of a Westminster inquiry has warned. Intelligence agencies MI5 and M16 face the same scrutiny.

Insisting that the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) will act "without fear, or favour", former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind rejected charges that it is too close to the establishment.

Serving ministers

“If our conclusions are that either ministers, 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,” he said.

Up to recently, the ISC was able only to request files from the British intelligence agencies, but it now has powers to go into the offices of MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications HQ (GCHQ) to see them.

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The US government will be pressed, said Mr Rifkind, to release key sections of a confidential congressional intelligence report linking the UK to Central Intelligence Agency- organised torture.

Unable to force the US to comply, he said the inquiry would put pressure on the US to give it unpublished sections of last week’s heavily-edited report that directly accused the CIA of torturing prisoners.

He hinted that the ISC, which includes senior British political figures, would make “a huge public fuss” if the US authorities do not release any section of the report laying out “the UK’s possible involvement in these matters”.

Evidence in secret

However, the Rifkind-led committee takes evidence in secret, cannot compel witnesses to attend or compel them to give evidence under oath and its reports are subject to the approval of No 10 before they can be published.

Pressure is mounting for a judge-led inquiry into the allegations that the British co-operated with, or were directly involved in, torturing prisoners in the hunt for information about suspected Islamic terror plots.

Questioned yesterday, the Liberal Democrats’ business secretary, Vince Cable, said a judicial inquiry – which is strongly opposed by the intelligence agencies – could be set up if it “doesn’t appear that the truth is emerging” from police investigations.

However, former Labour minister Alan Johnson said he accepted assurances from home secretary Theresa May that the only edits made to the US inquiry on foot of British requests were made to protect its agents in the field.

Initially, No 10 had said that there had been no requests for redactions, but later they had to embarrassingly return to say that deletions had been made from the US report’s executive summary on national security grounds.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times