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21 May 2010

Hague announces “judge-led” torture inquiry

How much of the inquiry will be heard in public, and does David Miliband have anything to worry abou

By Samira Shackle

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague (typing that still feels strange), has said that he will order a “judge-led” inquiry into allegations that the UK’s security services were complicit in torture.

This is a very positive step, and puts into practice something that both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives called for in opposition following the Binyam Mohamed case.

Essentially, the allegation is that British security services and the British government subcontracted torture — sending UK residents and citizens abroad, where they knew they were likely to face torture, even if they did not specifically recommend it.

It is not clear yet what form the inquiry will take. Hague said only:

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We will be setting out in the not-too-distant future what we are going to do about allegations that have been made into complicity in torture. We will make a full announcement that we are working on now. We want a judge-led inquiry.

A key question will be how much of the inquiry is heard in public. The high court battle to get the Foreign Office to share evidence in the Mohamed case suggest that it will primarily take place behind closed doors.

While the new government will be keen to avoid the accusation of a whitewash in this attempt to demonstrate a break with the past, there will be a strong national interest defence for keeping key details private. The secret services are not shy about employing this.

Writing in the Guardian, Ian Cobain is hopeful, noting that:

It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.

While the first senior figure that springs to mind is, of course, Tony Blair, there are others with more at stake. What about David Miliband? Any responsible inquiry will have to ask what he — and the then home secretary, Alan Johnson — knew about the practice of rendition established in the Blair/Bush era, and whether they did anything about it.

Today, Johnson declared his withdrawal from frontbench politics. Miliband, currently the front-runner for the Labour leadership, has rather more at stake. When it comes to the murky area of torture and rendition, he certainly does not want to be tarred as the heir to Blair.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of “Liberty in the Age of Terror” by A C Grayling.

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