No Comment — June 30, 2010, 3:32 pm

Britain Moves Forward on Torture Probe

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government in Britain moves forward on its pledge to investigate and hold accountable those in government service who were involved with torture. Most published accounts containing evidence of torture are linked to joint operations between British intelligence and the CIA, and thus CIA operations figure very prominently in the probe. The Guardian reports:

David Cameron and the foreign secretary, William Hague, are understood to have agreed the terms of a judge-led inquiry into claims that British security services were complicit in torture of terrorism suspects. The inquiry is expected to offer compensation in cases, where necessary, and is likely to be held in private. A judge-led inquiry or commission may have the advantage of bringing together the 13 separate compensation cases currently going through the courts.

Those cases are leading to complex demands for the disclosure of documents that the intelligence services may not welcome, and are finding difficult to control. Some of the litigants have demanded an inquiry as part of their civil claims. Cameron is understood to have discussed the issue in recent days with President Obama, but no decision is expected very shortly. While some in Whitehall have said no inquiry can be held while so many alleged victims of torture and rendition are suing the government, most legal experts believe it is possible.

The inquiry’s focus on compensation to torture victims shows that the British Government takes seriously its obligations under the Convention Against Torture to compensate victims of torture carried out by those acting under color of office. Compare this with the dismissive posture taken by the U.S. Justice Department, which has sought zealously to foreclose all paths of compensation and pointedly ignores America’s formal treaty obligations, which are to be implemented by the Executive.

The UK inquiry is independent of the question of criminal prosecutions. As The Guardian notes, a police investigation is still pending, and it is likely to lead to a recommendation to the Director of Public Prosecutions on specific criminal charges.

Speaking for the Liberal Democrat coalition partners, MEP Sarah Ludford said, “Only a very thorough cleaning of the stables can re-establish Britain’s reputation as a nation of principles rather than a sidekick to appalling human rights abuses. It should also be judge-led, held as far as possible in public, and not rule out the possibility of prosecutions.” The reference to being a “sidekick to appalling human rights abuses” is clear enough. It’s an unpleasant consequence of what used to be called the “special relationship.”

For those in the White House who argue for a policy of “don’t look back” that violates their oath to uphold the Constitution and the criminal laws of the United States, the British government is furnishing an example. This is how a modern democracy—and one under Conservative leadership at that—deals with the legacy of torture.

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