Campaigners to shun UK inquiry into detainee 'torture'

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Media captionReprieve's Clare Algar: "Sadly the terms of the inquiry have indeed meant it will be shrouded in secrecy"

Campaigners and lawyers acting for former detainees say they will boycott an inquiry into the alleged torture and mistreatment of UK terror suspects.

Sir Peter Gibson's detainee rendition inquiry is due to start at the end of an ongoing police investigation.

But 10 campaign groups said the process lacked credibility and transparency, and too much would remain secret.

An inquiry spokeswoman said the decision was regrettable but confirmed it would still go ahead.

'Pointless whitewash'

The inquiry was broadly welcomed by campaigners when it was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2010.

But when the inquiry's terms and protocols were revealed last month they were criticised by campaign groups such as Reprieve and Liberty, and lawyers representing those claiming to have been victims.

They have confirmed they will not take part or submit any evidence when the inquiry eventually begins.

The campaign groups, which include Liberty, Reprieve and Amnesty International, said they were disappointed that the final decision over what material would be made public would not be made independent of government.

They also argued that there will be no meaningful participation by former and current detainees and other interested third parties, with no opportunity to question evidence from intelligence officials.

In a letter sent to the solicitor for the inquiry, the campaigners said: "As you know, we were keen to assist the inquiry in the vital work of establishing the truth about allegations that UK authorities were involved in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad.

"Our strong view, however, is that the process currently proposed does not have the credibility or transparency to achieve this."

Solicitors representing former detainees Imran Khan and Tayab Ali have also sent a letter to the inquiry.

It stated: "We consider it impossible to advise those whom we represent that the structure and protocols now confirmed for the Gibson inquiry can achieve what are essential ingredients for a public inquiry into grave state crimes.

"What is proposed is a 'Detainee Inquiry' in which there will be no constructive participation by the detainees.

"The detainees will not be able to ask questions or see or hear the key evidence which is to be considered only in secret session.

"They will not even know if the individuals being questioned are the right ones."

Key shortcomings cited include the reliance on the government to determine what information is made public and the failure to ensure meaningful participation by detainees.

Reprieve investigator Tim Cooke-Hurle added: "Since the torture inquiry was announced a year ago, we have tried repeatedly to make it work.

"It is frustrating that the government has instead chosen to proceed with a secretive and toothless review.

'Element of trust'

"By ignoring the concerns of torture victims and major human rights organisations, the government risks a pointless whitewash."

But former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind denied the inquiry was secretive and said the campaigners were "cutting off their nose to spite their face".

"I cannot recollect an inquiry that's been proposed to be so open as we're having in this particular case," he said.

Image caption Sir Peter Gibson will chair the planned inquiry which was initially welcomed by campaigners

"When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 - the prime minister has made quite clear - can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evidence?"

He also said a "vast amount" of the information would be made public, and there had to be "some element of trust" when the authorities were dealing with top secret information.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said it regretted the campaigners' decision and hoped the groups and solicitors would reconsider, but emphasised the process will still go ahead.

She said: "The inquiry offers the detainees and anyone else with evidence relevant to its terms of reference the only opportunity for them to give evidence to an independent inquiry."

The inquiry cannot begin until a police investigation into two allegations of wrongdoing by the intelligence agencies has concluded.

Sir Peter will examine whether UK authorities were involved in or aware of "improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter terrorism operations overseas" following 9/11.

The inquiry's main focus will be cases of British citizens and residents who were held in US custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Successive Labour governments denied officials had known about alleged abuses in detention at Guantanamo and in Pakistan.

The Cabinet Office said the government had every confidence the inquiry would take a robust look at the issues.

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