That the UK was complicit in torture and rendition after 9/11 was well known, largely thanks to the work of investigative journalists. But what was not known until the publication last week of by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) was the sheer scale. The statistics are shocking. British intelligence officers were present at, or knew about, hundreds of incidents, working alongside the CIA and other American partners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo.
Scattered throughout the reports is overriding concern not for human rights but fear of offending the US, and of being excluded from the intelligence gained through methods that breach international law. The began in 2010 under a judge, Sir Peter Gibson, but he ended up publishing only an interim report, stymied by a lack of cooperation. The ISC took up the investigation but, like Gibson, also gave up. Given the restrictions it worked under, the committee did a commendable job. But it acknowledged there were still too many gaps, too many unwilling to testify and too many obstructions – such as Theresa May, who refused to allow four key officers in the intelligence agencies and the military to give evidence.
Just as inexplicable is why senior figures from the government at the time, such as Jack Straw and David Blunkett, the then foreign and home secretaries, were not asked to give evidence. Straw, in response to the reports, said he had been unaware of the activities and yet one of the reports shows he authorised a large payment for an aircraft for rendition.
We need to hear from him and from the spy chiefs, such as the head of , Sir Richard Dearlove, and his counterparts in the other agencies.
After eight years, the case for an independent judicial inquiry with access to all witnesses is unanswerable. It needs to be able to call not the junior intelligence officers in the field, but those at the top of the agencies and their masters in government. American involvement in torture and rendition has long been exposed in the US. The UK, by contrast, has been painfully slow in confronting the truth. And it is still not there.