UK torture inquiry could summon Blair and Straw

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of intelligence and security committee, says he will investigate allegations ‘without fear of favour’
Jack Straw and Tony Blair in 2005. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
Tony Blair and his former foreign secretary Jack Straw could be summoned before a parliamentary inquiry in an attempt to determine the extent of any British involvement in torture of terror suspects.
The two senior figures from the last Labour government may be asked to give evidence to the intelligence and security committee (ISC) in the wake of the publication of a US Senate report confirming that the CIA used brutal and ineffective methods after 9/11.
However, pressure is growing on the government to announce a separate, judge-led inquiry, amid concerns that the ISC is too closely associated with the Westminster establishment.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the ISC chairman and a Conservative former foreign secretary, said on Sunday he would investigate “without fear or favour” regardless of whether it might embarrass the security services, ministers or Whitehall.
He said his committee would not shy away from saying that the evidence pointed towards the possibility of prosecutions if it thought that was appropriate.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether senior figures from the last government such as Blair and Straw could be asked to give evidence, Rifkind replied: “Certainly we would request any former minister or serving minister who has a contribution to make to our inquiries, to give evidence. If they refuse to do so that itself would imply they had something to hide. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
He said no decisions had yet been taken about who would be called as witnesses. It was reported over the weekend that Straw was questioned by police as a witness in 2012 over allegations that British MI6 agents were involved in the renditions of Libyans back to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, where they were subsequently mistreated. The police inquiries are expected to conclude within the next few months, enabling the ISC to start investigating the allegations as its top priority.
Speaking on the same programme, Alan Johnson, the Labour former home secretary, said he had found “no evidence of British agents being involved” in torture or rendition during his time in government, but Blair and Straw should appear before the ISC if they were asked.
As the ISC struggles to defend its credibility as the right body to investigate, Rifkind also promised on Sunday that he would ask the US Senate intelligence committee to hand over secret material redacted from their report at the request of the UK.
Despite Rifkind’s reassurances, senior politicians from across the parties – including the Tory former cabinet ministers Dominic Grieve and Andrew Mitchell – have now backed calls for an independent judge-led inquiry into British involvement in torture after the police investigations have finished. Even the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has said her instinct is that an independent inquiry is needed, despite the fact that it would examine events that took place under the last Labour government.
Critics fear that the ISC is compromised by the facts that it is largely composed of establishment figures, that its meetings are mainly conducted in secret and that its reports are subject to redactions by the government. It will not compel witnesses to give evidence, and those who do so are not speaking under oath.
One of the ISC’s biggest critics is Norman Baker, the Lib Dem former Home Office minister, who said it had “not really delivered the goods” in the past. He said the investigation needed to get to the bottom of the scandal before the UK considered renewing its contract with the US for the lease of the Diego Garcia airbase, which has been used at least twice for the rendition of terror suspects.
On Monday Theresa May, the home secretary, will face questioning about the extent of her contact with the Senate committee and whether she personally lobbied for any redactions. There have been more than 20 meetings between the committee and UK government representatives, fuelling speculation about a campaign to keep mention of UK agencies out of the final report.
May could also be asked about comments made by a former Home Office minister, Lord West, who suggested on Friday that British agents could have been in the same building at the time US operatives were torturing suspects.
The ISC took on the job of investigating the torture of detainees after Sir Peter Gibson, a retired judge, was frustrated in his inquiry because two police investigations had been launched into the rendition of detainees to Libya.
In an interim report, Gibson said he had not found any evidence of British agents themselves undertaking torture, but he raised 27 serious questions that had not been answered about their potential involvement in what the CIA was doing. These included whether the two intelligence agencies were willing to “condone, encourage or take advantage of rendition operations” mounted by others.
The government has appeared lukewarm so far about reviving the Gibson inquiry, saying it will wait and see what the ISC finds before ordering another investigation.
David Cameron has said the UK has dealt with the issue of complicity in torture and the problems date back more than a decade to the period just after 9/11 during Blair’s second term as prime minister.
Meawnhile, a top official from Romania has for the first time confirmed that the CIA had “at least” one prison in the country. Ioan Talpes, a former head of the country’s intelligence service, said the CIA had “centres” in Romania, including a transit camp or compound, where prisoners were kept before being moved to other locations.
He is the first Romanian official to confirm information in the CIA torture report last week about the existence of at least one “black site” in which prisoners were held and probably tortured.

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