Five years on from the London tube bombings, we remain no closer to a full, complete and impartial understanding of the terrible events of that day. Today, the coalition government has demonstrated that it has largely fallen in line with the steps of its predecessor.
The announcement that the government will hold an official inquiry into allegations that the secret service was complicit in torture of 'terror suspects' is, needless to note, welcome. But its arrival on the anniversary of the most devastating attack on London since WW2 is no accident.
While in opposition David Cameron and Nick Clegg both supported the call for an independent public inquiry into the 7/7 terrorist attacks. Yet now that power is theirs, the duo's coalition regime is challenging the 7/7 inquest's attempts to explore the "preventability" of the attacks. Three weeks ago, MI5 declared they were now preparing to apply for a judicial review of that decision.
While the government underhandedly attempts to quash the only independent inquiry process currently available in the form of the inquest proceedings, Cameron's much-lauded declaration of a decision to hold an inquiry into the torture allegations has served to eclipse public recollection of the whole 7/7 inquiry issue. Yet the proposed torture inquiry is not designed to involve a meaningful investigation, but has far more to do with damage-control over the pending lawsuits of 12 torture victims suing the intelligence services for their complicity in their torture. Those lawsuits pose the danger of exposing in public hearings the systemic misconduct of the intelligence services with high-level Whitehall approval, through potentially damaging disclosures from subpoena requests and witness calls.
The official announcement of a torture inquiry follows Cameron's confirmation yesterday that the government would offer large compensation sums to the 12 claimants on condition that they drop their lawsuits. Meanwhile, the proposed inquiry has been emasculated before even beginning. As the Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor reported:
"Cameron yesterday suggested, and government officials made clear, that most of the evidence to the inquiry will be heard in private, and as a non-statutory inquiry, its powers will be limited. "It will not establish legal liability, nor order financial settlement,' Cameron said in a letter to Gibson, published yesterday.
It will not summon witnesses from foreign countries, such as current or former CIA officers. And it will not be able to compel any individuals to give evidence. Last night, Whitehall officials said that former Labour ministers, including Tony Blair, will not be asked to give evidence, even though the treatment of British citizens and residents under investigation happened on their watch."
The government has also refused to disclose the official guidelines to intelligence officers for handling detainees which applied during the periods detainees were allegedly abused. Instead, it has offered to publish new "consolidated" guidelines, and while simultaneously showing no inclination to properly investigate or even acknowledge the official policy under which British security services oversaw torture.
Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail further points out that the 3 proposed panel members to head the inquiry seem to have been hand-picked for their subservience to the Whitehall establishment, particularly the security services:
"The signs are worrying. Sir Peter is a thoroughly acceptable figure to British spies because he has been Commissioner of the Intelligence Services since 2006, and was reappointed only last year.
Most of his work is carried out away from the public eye, but I have heard no reports of Sir Peter asking probing questions of MI5 and MI6 bosses over the past few years, despite the publication of a mass of troubling material during that period.
A second member of the tribunal, Peter Riddell, is a retired journalist from the Times newspaper who, five years ago, published a book celebrating Tony Blair's relationship with George W. Bush and the U.S. -- by coincidence at almost exactly the moment the worst of the alleged torture abuses were taking place.
Riddell, though a cheerful and popular figure, has never been known for the kind of forensic investigation and harsh scrutiny this inquiry surely requires.
Many will surmise that this is exactly why he was appointed.
Meanwhile the Times, for which Mr Riddell worked for many years, has given only perfunctory coverage to the numerous revelations about British complicity over the past few years.
Though regarded with amiable fondness by senior Whitehall and intelligence figures, Peter Riddell has not yet demonstrated any of the toughness or readiness to challenge the Whitehall establishment this investigation requires.
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