A bigger broom needed: the Detainee Inquiry

Overnight I saw some bitterly ironic comments on social media about that horrible Afghan 'urination video'– the one appearing to show four US Marines in Afghanistan urinating on several prone (dead?) bodies in front of them.

Some commentators were saying things like: “This is fitting on the day that Guantánamo is now ten years old”.

You can see their point. With the US authorities (figuratively) urinating all over international human rights standards with the indefinite detention without trial of 167 detainees at Guantánamo (and reportedly thousands more at Bagram in Afghanistan), human rights activists are angry and dismayed. Quite understandably.

The US military authorities are promising to investigate the video and that’s at least a start – but what about the much, much wider investigation – a properly independent one – that we still need to see into prisoner abuse (and other human rights violations) perpetrated by US forces (military and civilian) ever since 9/11? Where indeed.

Meanwhile, the big news on this side of the pond is that the Crown Prosecution Service will not (for now) be charging anyone over allegations that British officials (apparently one member of MI5 and one member of MI6) were involved in the abuse of detainees. On the other hand, there will be further investigations into “a complaint from a detainee in which specific allegations of criminal wrongdoing were raised in relation to alleged rendition and alleged ill-treatment in Libya” (to quote the DPP/Met joint statement today).

Is this disappointing? Well, hard to say. The fact that the Met was investigating in the first place is welcome, as is the rendition investigation (which could be hugely significant).

Establishing criminal responsibility for wrongdoing in affairs like this is massively important. But it’s also about establishing what went on, what were the systemic and institutional issues? This means getting to the full detail (and making that detail properly known to the general public) about how far into the mire British officials slipped during the “war on terror”. We already have quite a lot of information suggesting that UK officials were aware of the abuse of prisoners, that they knew full well they were being held without lawyers and in secret, and that they were likely to be rendered to place like Guantánamo at the end of their ordeals.

The “Detainee Inquiry” tasked with the job of getting to the bottom of this (cleaning out the Augean stables, to use that time-worn image) is presently underpowered and not up to the job. We need a bigger broom.

Finally – apologies for the way that bodily excreta have featured so prominently in this post. But then again, sometimes there’s no avoiding the shit, the piss, the blood and the torture.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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