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British government abandons torture inquiry

January 18, 2012 |  1:43 pm

Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, the military commander of Tripoli, Libya, addresses a rally Sept. 9, 2011, in Tripoli.

REPORTING FROM LONDON --  An inquiry on reports that the British security services MI5 and MI6 tortured terrorism suspects has been abandoned to make way for a police investigation of torture allegations that emerged last week, Justice Secretary Ken Clark told Parliament on Wednesday.

The planned inquiry headed by Peter Gibson, a senior judge, was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2010 to investigate claims by several former detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and others that they had been tortured by members of British secret service and others during their detention.

However, allegations emerged last week of British secret service collusion in the abduction and rendition flights of two Libyans. Those allegations are now the subject of a new police investigation, which officials say would clash with the Gibson inquiry.

The subjects of the new inquiry are Sami Saadi and Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, opponents of the late Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi who are active in the post-Kadafi Libyan government. They say they were arrested abroad in 2004 with CIA and British cooperation, flown to Libya and tortured by Libyan police .  Their claims were backed up by documents found after the fall of the Kadafi regime.

“These further police investigations into the Libyan allegations may take some considerable time to conclude,” Clarke said, adding that there appeared to be no prospect of the Gibson inquiry starting in the near future.

The decision to close the inquiry was welcomed by human-rights and other non-governmental organizations that doubted it would be totally independent or transparent. 

“The Gibson inquiry simply did not have the powers or the independence to get to the truth,” said a statement from Reprieve, a human rights legal organization, which said it looked forward to working with the government on  a future inquiry “with real clout and real independence.”


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Photo: Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, the military commander of Tripoli, Libya, addresses a rally Sept. 9, 2011, in Tripoli. Allegations of British involvement in the ill treatment of Belhaj and another Libyan in 2004 are to be investigated by British police. Credit: AFP/Getty Images