UK interrogation guidelines, plans for mediation of interrogation-related complaints, the Gibson Commission of Inquiry, and prospects for new legislation or policy on classified info in litigation

* United Kingdom: guidelines on interrogation, plans for mediating interrogation-related claims, launch of a Commission of Inquiry into past practices, and plans regarding the use of classified information in litigation (thanks to Clive Walker for alerting me to all of this)

Big news in the UK last week, on three fronts relating to interrogation practices (and also hints of future initiatives re classified information in litigation).

First, the government promulgated the “Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas, and on the Passing and Receipt of Intelligence Relating to Detainees.” The guidelines confirm the UK’s adherence to the prohibitions on torture and CID treatment in the interrogation setting (though they do not attempt to define CID), and also addressing the procedures to be followed by UK personnel when dealing with persons held in foreign custody or with information from such persons. The two relevant documents are attached.

Second, Prime Minister Cameron gave a speech in Parliament discussing this topic, with an emphasis on the need to try to close the book on the question of involvement in past abuses. Toward that end, he announced plans to try to use mediation to quickly resolve outstanding civil claims:

While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done. About a dozen cases have been brought in court about the actions of UK personnel-including, for example, that since 9/11 they may have witnessed mistreatment such as the use of hoods and shackles. This has led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees. The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger will grow the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights.

That is why I am determined to get to the bottom of what happened. The intelligence services are also keen publicly to establish their principles and integrity. So we will have a single, authoritative examination of all these issues. We cannot start that inquiry while criminal investigations are ongoing, and it is not feasible to start it while so many civil law suits remain unresolved. So we want to do everything that we can to help that process along. That is why we are committed to mediation with those who have brought civil claims about their detention in Guantanamo. And wherever appropriate, we will offer compensation.

Third, and as noted in the preceding quote, Cameron announced the formation of a commission of inquiry focused on past involvement of UK personnel in abusive interrogations:

As soon as we have made enough progress, an independent inquiry, led by a judge, will be held. It will look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. The inquiry will need to look at the relevant Government Departments and intelligence services. Should we have realised sooner that what foreign agencies were doing may have been unacceptable and that we should not have been associated with it? Did we allow our own high standards to slip, either systemically or individually? Did we give clear enough guidance to officers in the field? Was information flowing quickly enough from officers on the ground to the intelligence services and then on to Ministers, so that we knew what was going on and what our response should have been?

We should not be for one moment naive or starry-eyed about the circumstances under which our security services were working in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. There was a real danger that terrorists could get their hands on a dirty bomb, chemical or biological weapons, or even worse. Threat levels had been transformed. The urgency with which we needed to protect our citizens was pressing. But let me state clearly that we need to know the answers, if things went wrong, why, and what we must do to uphold the standards that people expect. I have asked the right hon. Sir Peter Gibson, former senior Court of Appeal judge and currently the statutory commissioner for the intelligence services, to lead the inquiry. The three-member inquiry team will also include Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the Civil Service Commissioners, and Peter Riddell, former journalist and senior fellow at the Institute for Government. [emphasis added]

I have today made public a letter to the inquiry chair setting out what the inquiry will cover, so Sir Peter Gibson can finalise the details with us before it starts. We hope that it will start before the end of this year and report within a year. This inquiry cannot and will not be costly or open-ended; that would serve neither the interests of justice nor national security. Neither can it be a full public inquiry. Of course, some of its hearings will be in public. However, we must be realistic; inquiries into our intelligence services are not like other inquiries. Some information must be kept secret-information about sources, capabilities and partnerships. Let us be frank: it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret. So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public, and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.

But that does not mean we cannot get to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information; it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services; and it will be able to take evidence-in public-including from those who have brought accusations against the Government, and their representatives and interest groups. Importantly, the head of the civil service and the intelligence services will ensure that the inquiry gets the full co-operation it needs from Departments and agencies. So I am confident the inquiry will reach an authoritative view on the actions of the state and our services, and make proper recommendations for the future.

In addition to all this, Cameron foreshadowed an initiative next year to adjust how classified information is handled in litigation:

There is something else we have to address, and that is how court cases deal with intelligence information. Today, there are serious problems. The services cannot disclose anything that is secret in order to defend themselves in court with confidence that that information will be protected. There are also doubts about our ability to protect the secrets of our allies and stop them ending up in the public domain. This has strained some of our oldest and most important security partnerships in the world-in particular, that with America. Hon. Members should not underestimate the vast two-way benefit this US-UK relationship has brought in disrupting terrorist plots and saving lives.

So we need to deal with these problems. We hope that the Supreme Court will provide further clarity on the underlying law within the next few months. And next year, we will publish a Green Paper which will set out our proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, including addressing the concerns of our allies. In this process, the Government will seek the views of the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee. I can announce today that I have appointed my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as the Chair of that Committee for the duration of this Parliament.

His full speech, and responses to it by MPs, appears here:




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