Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor at the UK Guardian are reporting that the widely heralded 2010 announcement of a British government official inquiry into UK torture is facing a boycott by British human rights and attorney groups. The reason is undue secrecy.

[British Prime Minister] Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. “Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret,” he said. “So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.”

This from the UK Guardian… July 14, 2010.

The handwriting was on the wall for some time on this sham inquiry, but the British human rights and lawyer groups kept fighting to make something real out of it. I can understand the impulse to do this, but really the inquiry’s true intentions were telegraphed when Sir Peter Gibson was made its chair, as I noted when the news first broke.

The investigation is being conducted by a panel of three, whose head is the intelligence-connected Sir Peter Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). Many questions have been raised by the appointment of Gibson, and it is startling to think that British human rights groups will accede to the appointment, given Gibson’s likely bias, not to mention his track record in other “judge-led” investigations.

The legal human rights charity group Reprieve describes three fatal flaws embedded within the official rules recently published for the inquiry:

First, the definition of evidence that will remain classified forever is hopelessly overbroad. Set out in Annex A [of the Detainee's Inquiry Protocol - PDF], this effectively includes anything that would in any way breach an “understanding” between the UK and its allies – in other words, anything the Americans would find embarrassing will not be made public…. Given that the essence of British complicity involves working with the US on torture and rendition, the exception to publicity swallows the rule.

Second, there is no meaningful, independent (preferably judicial) review of what should be kept secret… Unlike other inquiries where victims have made serious allegations of torture, the victims will not have meaningful legal representation. Their advisers will be denied access to any documents or hearings deemed secret by the inquiry.

Third, the Inquiry is left toothless due to a lack of powers to compel the attendance of witnesses or the provision of evidence or information from any party or organisation.

Truly, the UK government’s so-called inquiry is being set up as Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith called it, “a whitewash.” According to the Guardian article Shami Chakrabarti, director of the British group Liberty, states the inquiry is “a sham.” “When is an inquiry not an inquiry?” Chakrabarti asked. “When it’s a secret internal review.”

Hiding Murder in the Rendition Program

While the U.S. Department of Justice is finally considering two cases of murder of detainees by the CIA, in general, the Obama administration has an official policy of “not looking back” and non-accountability when it comes to crimes of torture. But it seems likely there are more crimes waiting to be revealed.

Last July, around the time the UK torture inquiry was first proposed, I broke the story that the revelations of UK cooperation with U.S. rendition policies included possible “rendition to killing.”

Like much of what I report, the revelation was not consistent with the accepted narrative of what the U.S. media is allowed to report, so it was also ignored by the supposed alternative blogosphere, who mainly grubs after the crumbs that are begrudgingly reported by Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or second-tier establishment-organs-cum-alternative-press like Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, or Salon.com. The mainstream press reports what government officials tell them, while the “alternative” press and bloggers report what academic and governmental dissidents say. Rarely is any real investigative work done.

But this revelation was based on hard documentation, as reported in my July 14, 2010 article.

A series of documents released on July 14 in the UK Binyam Mohamed civil case, Al Rawi and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Others, have produced a series of explosive revelations, reported in Britain and as yet unknown here in the U.S….

Now, one of the most incendiary revelations in the documents concerns instructions given to MI6 Special Intelligence Service (SIS) over detention operations. According to Chapter 32 of MI6′s general procedural manual, “Detainees and Detention Operations”, “the following sensitivities arise” (PDF – bold emphasis added):

a. the geographical destination of the target. Where will she or he be held? Under whose jurisdiction? Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?

b. what treatment regime(s) for the detainees can be expected?

c. what is the legal basis for the detention?

d. what is the role of any liaison partner who might be involved?

The “objective” of “killing” points to the existence of extrajudicial murders carried out by the intelligence services. It’s not clear if the killings are by UK or liaison — including United States — forces. “Liaison partners” refers to instances of operational cooperation with non-UK intelligence agencies.

I have since discovered that BBC reported the same revelations about “killing” on July 15, so at least it was reported in the British press, where it made some stir, the BBC labeling as “stark” the paragraph on about “killing” as “the objective of the operation.” Still, no U.S. news outlet picked up on this.

This is not the first time that unheralded killings of detainees has appeared in an otherwise unnoticed document. Last December I reported on a discussion of Guantanamo health protocols at a February 19, 2002 meeting of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, where officials were told that a “number of the detainees have died of the wounds that they arrived with.”

This is not as impossible or incredible as it may sound. We know that Guantanamo, like other DoD and CIA sites had their share of “ghost prisoners,” i.e., prisoners whose existence was never reported to the International Red Cross or anyone else. Some of these disappeared forever. We don’t know how many. (Maybe a real torture inquiry would shed some light on this.) Indeed, Manadel al-Jamadi, the subject of one of John Durham’s recently announced criminal investigations, was such a ghost prisoner. And he, too, ended up dead, murdered.

Nor are such renditions and ghost prisoners a recent phenomenon. Consider the case of a Bulgarian political activist Dmitrov (aka “Kelly”) who was rendered to U.S. Fort Clayton in Panama in the early 1950s, where, according to declassified CIA documents, he became a victim of the CIA’s Project Artichoke mind control program. The full story was reported by H.P. Albarelli and myself in a Truthout article last year.

The United States, Great Britain and their partners in torture and rendition believe they are above the law, and that they can game the system forever. Perhaps they are right, and we have lost the battle before it was ever really engaged. I refuse to believe this is so. I can’t believe that I am alone in wanting justice, and seeking a radical change in the configuration of forces that control this planet, which are currently organized in the name of power and oppression, for the benefit of an economic elite, and not around justice, social and economic equality, and a rational, humane world order based on cooperation and mutual respect for all nations and all individuals.

We desperately need a real, international inquiry into the crimes of torture, rendition, and aggressive war. But there is no political force currently operative that has the power and influence to make this happen, as the pending collapse of the UK torture inquiry enterprise demonstrates. And that is truly the dilemma of our times.