SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
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.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Percentage increase in the annual number of polio cases in Pakistan since 2005:
A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”
A federal judge sentenced the journalist Barrett Brown to 63 months in prison for sharing a link to information stolen from the private-intelligence firm Stratfor by a hacker in 2011. “Good news!” Brown said in a statement. “They’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”