Torture and those pesky parliamentarians

Listen to Ivan Lewis stonewalling on the Today programme (8.10 interview) and you get the distinct impression that the government has … how can I put this, got something to hide.

There, I’ve said it. I know, shocking isn’t it? A government that may have something it wants to keep quiet about. Who’d have thought it?

Except, of course, that ministers who seem to want to suppress information about how MI5 and other British officials may have been complicit in the vicious torture – not to mention illegal detention, and in some cases secret transfer to Guantanamo Bay – of people in places like Pakistan, Iraq or Morocco is shocking.

This, in essence, is what today’s story about the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights' report on allegations of UK complicity in the torture of people overseas amounts to.

So, has the government got anything to hide? The mantra for years – specifically the notorious “war on terror” years (roughly 2001-early 2009) – has been that the UK government does not “condone” torture.

But what does that mean? That it doesn’t allow its people to do it? Doesn’t allow it to be done in the presence of its officials? That it never asks that the individual detainees be beaten up or slashed with sharp implements?

In fact it’s possible that there’s actually a lot of wriggle room when it comes to complicity in torture. Read some of the detailed claims – here and here – to see how it could be done

Today I think we have to raise our hats at the persistence of the MPs and peers of the JCHR. First for investigating the issue and second for blasting the government for failing to co-operate with it. (I say: three cheers for our parliamentary democracy; after all, it’s not all moats and duck islands….).

Now, somewhere down the line in this inglorious affair, I almost fancy we could, Scooby-Doo-like, be hearing a British official hauled out of a courtroom muttering “if it wasn’t for those pesky parliamentarians, I’d have got away with it”.

Or is it actually childish and unthinkable to imagine British agents of the state being held responsible for complicity in torture?

Ask your own pesky MP to press for an independent inquiry here.

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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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