Britain's links to the torture of Libyans to be "investigated"

Cameron confirms that the Gibson Inquiry will look at new allegations, but its credibility has alrea

"Our relationship with the new Libyan regime must deal with the significant issues in the past," said David Cameron in his statement to the Commons this afternoon. Given today's allegations about Britain's complicity in the extraordinary rendition and torture of Libyans, these issues look very significant indeed.

The controversy centres on Abdul Hakim Belhaj, now the National Transitional Council's military commander. Documents found in Libya appear to indicate that the UK and the US provided intelligence to Libyan authorities about Belhaj, then a terror suspect, which led to his capture in Bangkok in 2004.

In Cameron's speech to the Commons, he reiterated that the Gibson Inquiry, set up to consider the improper treatment of detainees at Guantanmo Bay, would look at these new allegations. He said:

My concern throughout has been not only to remove any stain on Britain's reputation, but also to deal with any allegations of malpractice to enable the secret services to do the enormously important work they do.

But is this move enough to fulfil these aims? It seems unlikely. When the terms and protocols of the Gibson Inquiry were announced last month, ten campaign groups, including Reprieve, Liberty, and Amnesty International, said that they would boycott proceedings, because it lacked credibility and transparency.

The solicitors of some detainees also said they would not co-operate with the inquiry because it failed to ensure any meaningful participation by detainees, and provided no opportunity to question evidence from intelligence officials.

Given this resounding lack of faith in the inquiry, it is highly unlikely that including the latest allegations will do anything to quash them.

Belhaj has demanded an apology from the UK and US governments over the allegation that they were involved in the plot which led to his capture in 2004, and has threatened to sue. Indeed, the courts may be the best place to thoroughly investigate this issue. During the Binyam Mohamed case, a court order was issued forcing the British government to publish secret memos it received from US intelligence officials as it was ruled that the public interest outweighed the potential risk to national security. This was hugely embarrassing for the government, and sets a precedent for future cases.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister appeared more concerned with emphasising his support for the secret services than with these serious allegations, and repeatedly urged people not to "rush to judgement" given the context of heightened security concerns in 2003. But regardless of whether Belhaj's alleged links to Al-Qaeda were genuine, participating in rendition and complicity in torture is illegal. It is urgent that these allegations are explored in a credible, open investigation.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories