Skip to main content

CIA: Torture

Volume 758: debated on Tuesday 16 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the report prepared by the United States Congress on CIA involvement in torture.

My Lords, the Senate committee’s account of the treatment of some detainees by the CIA is troubling. After 9/11, things happened that were clearly wrong. In Britain, we have made clear our determination to address allegations of UK complicity in the alleged mistreatment of detainees by others overseas. Her Majesty’s Government stand firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will our Government undertake an independent, judge-led inquiry to examine possible British complicity in the programme of torture, secret detention and rendition? Will our Government also provide all suitable help and assistance to UK citizens and residents who have been detained to enable them to seek justice and remedies? I point out that Shaker Aamer is still in detention and needs help to be released. He has apparently been very badly treated.

My Lords, the Government set up the Gibson inquiry in July 2010. It was asked to produce an interim report when police investigations into a number of potential criminal charges were instituted in 2012. The Gibson committee’s interim report raised 27 questions for further investigation. They have been taken up by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has now been working for a year with some additional staff on that inquiry. When that inquiry is complete, it will be for the next Government to decide whether a further judicial inquiry is necessary. On the question of Shaker Aamer, the Government are engaged at the highest levels for his release as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his original Answer to this Question. Will he set out whether Her Majesty’s Government believe that the Intelligence and Security Committee has the capacity and the resources that it needs to investigate these matters?

My Lords, I already said that the Intelligence and Security Committee has taken on additional staff to cope with this inquiry. I recognise that there are some considerations as to how open the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee will be. We have to wait to see how much it will be able to publish. I think we all recognise that this is all an extremely delicate area in terms of how much one can publish. I wish I could give an assurance that the next Government, whoever they may be, will do their utmost to ensure that as much as possible is published.

Does not my noble friend accept that, however delicate these matters are, there is widespread concern that this Government should show themselves utterly open on these issues? It is therefore very important that the answers to questions such as this are rather clearer, so that people can see exactly what we are doing to ensure that the reputation of this country should no longer be besmirched by such allegations.

My Lords, I entirely accept that. We are talking about allegations of behaviour undertaken between 2001 and 2005, in most instances. The Government are doing their utmost to ensure that they are fully investigated.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that reacting to terrorism by brutally torturing suspects can induce revenge terrorism in a never-ending cycle? Will he condemn torture in those terms?

My Lords, the Geneva Convention condemns torture; that is very clearly set out in the Geneva Convention. We certainly condemn torture, and we will watch with interest the response of public opinion in the United States to the Senate committee’s report, including that within the Senate, where there are very divided opinions.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has been very patient. We will allow him to ask his question and then we should have time for at least one more noble Lord.

My Lords, does this difficult question not take us back to the problem that stands at the heart of the operation of the Intelligence and Security Committee? A witness before that committee who does not tell the truth cannot be held in contempt of Parliament because that committee, while it is described as a committee of Parliament, is not a full Select Committee and does not enjoy parliamentary privileges.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s point and I encourage him to read the short 500-page executive summary of the US Senate committee’s report which has, from the summary of the summary that I have read, some rather shocking things in it. We very much hope that British officials were in no way associated with some of those actions.

How can my noble friend promise to address the claims of British complicity in acts of torture when those allegations have been redacted from the report, presumably at the request of the British Government themselves?

My Lords, the Government are clear that the question of the presence or participation of British officials in some of the acts that are alleged is one of the things that must be investigated.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that at the moment we have the worst of both worlds? The interim report of the Gibson committee was published, which listed a number of questions that were taken by the media as being findings and therefore we do not know what the truth is. I do not say this because I want to see anything hidden—quite the opposite, as I was one of those who called for that inquiry. However, at the moment we have the problem that things are believed to be true about the British security services, maybe about British people involved in political life, but because we have not got to the bottom of them and have not got a report, they are being condemned without it being properly investigated and heard. I am hopeful that the noble Lord will do what he has said, which is to make sure that the ISC, or whoever it is going to be, reports as soon as possible and we actually know what the truth is in the interests of everybody.

My Lords, we are all entirely clear that we need to get to the bottom of this and to spell out the involvement of British officials, in so far as it took place, as publicly as possible. I stress that will be a matter for the next Government. It is not therefore a partisan issue. We are all concerned about the reputation of Her Majesty’s Government.