Reprieve Demands Resignation of “Fatally Compromised” Head of UK Torture Inquiry
In a detailed and strongly-worded letter to Sir Peter Gibson, chosen by Prime Minster David Cameron to lead an inquiry into British complicity in the torture of British nationals and residents abroad, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, has called on Gibson to step down from his role as the judge in charge of the inquiry, complaining that “his impartiality is fatally compromised.” A copy of the letter was also sent to 10 Downing Street.
Reprieve’s analysis is certainly accurate, given that, “As the Intelligence Services Commissioner (ISC), it has been Sir Peter’s job for more than four years to oversee the Security Services,” and “he cannot now be the judge whether his own work was effective.”
Reprieve identified three particular reasons why Gibson’s recusal is required. The first is because it appears that, in a recent interview with Andrew Neil, the Prime Minister admitted that Gibson had “already conducted a secret inquiry, at the previous government’s request, into allegations of misconduct,” but “because it is secret, none of us may know what his conclusions were.”
The second reason is because, in three annual reports (from 2006 to 2008), Gibson concluded that all members of the Security Services were “trustworthy, conscientious and dependable.” As a result, in Reprieve’s words, he was “entirely prejudging the issues before the inquiry.” Reprieve also contrasted Gibson’s analysis with that of Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, in February this year, when, in ordering the government to release US documents establishing that British resident Binyam Mohamed had been tortured while in custody in Pakistan in 2002, he asserted that MI5 did not respect human rights, had not renounced participation in “coercive interrogation” techniques, deliberately misled MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee, which is supposed to be able to scrutinize its activities, and had a “culture of suppression” in its dealings with [former foreign secretary David] Miliband and the court.”
The third reason, as Reprieve explained, is that “part of Sir Peter’s job, as ISC, was to oversee ministerial authorizations that would allow the Security Services to violate the law abroad, including sanctioning British involvement in abusive interrogations. Since evidence will be presented that such interrogations have continued during Sir Peter’s tenure, he either validated these actions, or he has been hoodwinked as ISC. Either way, he should be a witness at the inquiry.”
This is a pretty devastating analysis of Sir Peter Gibson’s unsuitably for the job, although Reprieve’s press conference today to announce its very public and very vocal opposition to his appointment drew only a bland response from Downing Street, where a spokesman “said that the Prime Minister had full confidence in Gibson.”
In his letter, Clive Stafford Smith asked Gibson:
Please could you explain how you are able to preside over an inquiry about British complicity in torture during the time period in which you were responsible for the statutory oversight of the security and intelligence services? The allegation that you will have to rule on is (with apologies for putting it so frankly) that you were either asleep on your watch or were hoodwinked. Out of fairness to victims of torture, the security services and yourself, do you believe that you can rule fairly on such issues?
At today’s press conference he reiterated his complaints, stating, as the Guardian explained, that there was a “patently obvious basis for a judge to remove himself,” and adding that, given Gibson’s evident conflict of interest, the request for his recusal was “an incredibly uncontentious issue.”
Adding that he had not “received the first whisper of a response” from the Prime Minister regarding his complaints, Stafford Smith then threw down a gauntlet to the government, stating, “If they refuse to discuss this in private, then we will spend the rest of the summer discussing it in public.”
He also confirmed that Reprieve “would look at its legal options if Sir Peter refused to step down,” as the Guardian explained, and stated:
Welcome though the torture inquiry is, the current structure is a sham. Sir Peter Gibson was perhaps the least appropriate judge to evaluate the security services. The government must get serious about learning the mistakes of the past, rather than try to cover them up, or we are in for a long, hot summer.
Bring it on, Clive! Let’s have a proper inquiry under the Inquiries Act of 2005, with a judge able to “balance the need for national security against the need for transparency,” as Reprieve requested two weeks ago — and if David Cameron refuses, let’s rally some support for a long hot summer of protest. As I explained last week, when a series of damning documents regarding British complicity in torture were released by the High Court, in connection with an ongoing civil claim for damages filed by six former Guantánamo prisoners:
The time for silence, and the time for secrecy are over. To clear the air, and to draw a line under this most lamentable period in our recent history, we need an inquiry presided over by someone who is able to “balance the need for national security against the need for transparency.” For too long now — and with baleful results — the need for national security has been allowed to override everything else, inflicting grave damage on our claims to be a civilized country, and leading to devastating effects for those caught up in a “War on Terror” with few checks and balances.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK)