The former justice secretary responsible for abandoning a probe into British complicity in US rendition and the torture of terrorism suspects has said he regrets the decision, and reiterated demands for a fresh investigation.
Speaking to The Times, Ken Clarke said: “I have for some time regretted bringing to a close the Gibson inquiry, particularly since we seem to be no closer to getting to the truth of these matters.”
Announced by the Cameron government in 2010, the inquiry came to a close in January 2012 after ministers cited concerns about legal prejudice.
Clarke, who now chairs the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, told the paper that upon shutting down Gibson, he “made clear that the government fully intended to hold a judge-led inquiry into these issues once all related police investigations had been concluded.”
The comments come one month after Libyan national Abdul Hakim Belhaj reached an out-of-court settlement with the government over the kidnapping of him and his then-pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar in Thailand in 2004.
During the operation, the couple were hooded and taken in a joint operation by the CIA and MI6 as part of a rendition program. They were then sent back to Libya, where they were tortured in a Tripoli prison under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. At the time, Belhaj was the emir of the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi guerrilla group.
While Prime Minister Theresa May has since apologized for Britain’s role in the “appalling” treatment of Belhaj and Boudchar, Tony Blair – the prime minister in charge during the period of such rendition flights – has resisted calls to personally apologize for the incident. Speaking on a BBC Radio 4 program last month, Blair claimed that he didn’t know about the Belhaj case “until I left office.”
“So, I’m content to go along with that apology,” Blair added.
May, however, has not confirmed whether the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee will investigate the case further – something Clarke claims isn’t good enough.
“There must now be a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this case, including ministerial involvement in, or authorization of, the rendition,” said the former justice secretary.
“Despite the government’s very welcome apology to Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar, we are nowhere near getting to the bottom of the disgraceful involvement of this country in rendition and torture. Lessons cannot be learnt, nor a repeat of past problems avoided, until the truth has been established.”
In a statement, a government spokesperson maintained that the “UK stands firmly against the use of torture. We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of such techniques for any purpose and we have robust oversight arrangements in place.”