The British government is expected to announce this week whether an independent inquiry will resume into the UK’s involvement in overseas torture and transfers (known as “renditions”) in US-led counterterrorism operations after the 9/11 attacks. If it does, it may help bring justice for victims who suffered terrible abuses in which UK officials were complicit.
The original UK government inquiry, set up in 2010, was tasked with investigating alleged UK complicity in the kidnapping and unlawful rendition of terrorism suspects and their detention and torture outside the country. But the inquiry was shelved in 2012, following criticism about its weak powers and lack of independence.
And although the UK police opened a separate criminal investigation in 2012 into the role senior British officials played in assisting torture, the Crown Prosecution Service announced in 2016 it would not prosecute anyone. This despite strong evidence showing UK officials’ involvement in several egregious cases of rendition to torture in Libya.
The UK government has since publicly apologized to several of the Libyan victims for its role in their brutal treatment, and reached out-of-court compensation settlements with British nationals detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay and another family renditioned to Libya. Intelligence guidelines have been revised. And the parliamentary committee’s deeply damning findings have been made public.
But no one has yet been held to account for their role in abuses. And disturbing new allegations keep trickling out.
The Crown Prosecution Service seems to have set the bar for complicity in torture so high that it may be nearly impossible to prosecute anyone in the UK for assisting torture overseas. In explaining why it would not prosecute anyone for rendition to torture in Libya, the prosecutors’ office suggested it would have needed evidence that the “conduct” of UK nationals had “influenced” the Libyan decisionmakers.
The Director of Public Prosecutions should publish clear guidance on the evidence needed to prosecute someone for complicity in torture abroad, and this guidance should be applied objectively to those implicated in breaking the law.