'We Cannot Sweep These Allegations Under the Carpet'

From London now comes news that incoming Foreign Secretary William Hague will order an official investigation into whether British intelligence agents were complicit in Binyam Mohamed’s torture.

As the BBC and the Guardian reported late last week, Hague will be appointing a judge to lead the inquiry, which will examine whether U.K. government officials knew about or participated in the mistreatment of Mohamed and several other British-based former detainees. As Hague explained in announcing the plan,

So far [British government] ministers have stuck to the mantra that ‘we never condone, authorize, or co-operate in torture.’ But this does not dispel any of the accusations. If anything, there is now a direct and irreconcilable conflict between such ministerial assurances and the account given by Mr. Mohamed. That must be resolved.

While the previous Labor party administration frequently cited national security concerns in seeking to withhold information from the courts about torture allegations, Hague insisted that the U.K.’s security is best protected by dealing directly with allegations of abuse:

We cannot sweep these allegations under the carpet. Until the full facts are known, Britain’s name and reputation will be dragged through the mud – not least by the terrorists and extremists who will exploit these allegations for their own propaganda. It is vital to remember that torture does not help us defeat terrorists; it helps them to try to justify their hostility towards us.

Hague’s announcement followed the publication last week of a “Coalition agreement” outlining the agenda of the incoming Tory–Liberal Democrat government and picked up on pre-election calls by both parties for an official government investigation into Binyam Mohamed’s allegations.

The inquiry Hague will order reportedly could include immunity for former intelligence service agents who come forward with evidence. “Although immunity deals are rarely granted to those who are complicit in torture, lawyers who advised Tory shadow ministers in the run-up to the election concluded that it is possible,” the Guardian reported. “Such a deal would be of clear benefit to the two M15 and M16 officers who are currently at the centre of a Scotland Yard investigation into their alleged criminal wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, that same report suggests that following the British appeals court earlier this month barring the use of secret evidence in a civil suit brought by Mohamed and five others who were subject to rendition and torture, “Government lawyers are expected to offer out-of-court settlements worth millions of pounds” in the cases.

As we await further developments, it’s worth reflecting on the widening difference between the U.K. and the U.S. on the question of accountability for torture. In stark contrast to the Obama administration’s post-election “Don’t Look Back” posture, Britain’s new leaders appear determined to do what they said must be done when they were the minority, opposition parties. And no one, as far as I can tell, is accusing them of doing anything other than upholding their principles.

 

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