Getting closer to the truth on torture

The cloud of linguistic and moral confusion that was the “War on Terror” seems finally to have cleared.

The Government’s announcement that it will hold a judge-led inquiry into allegations that the Secret Intelligence Services were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects is a welcome one.

However, less welcome is the lack of clarity (or should it be lack of decision) as to whether the inquiry will be held in public. And whether it’s findings will be released without being redacted to within an inch of its life, as was the case with initial releases of MPs expense documentation.

Of all the misfeasance committed during this period, few allegations were more grievous and more shaming than those relating to the torture of terrorist suspects. What happened to Binyam Mohamed is not in doubt – he was tortured; this has been recognised by the American courts. What we need to know now is how far British officials were involved, if indeed at all.

Too often it appeared that we sacrificed compassion to a facile expediency, and made enemies of moderates while reaffirming our friendships with tyrants. Too often it appeared that the liberal causes we espoused were not matched in our actions and so it is all the more important that we get down to the atomic, unsplittable facts of in this case.

As so often, I find myself agreeing with Shami Chakrabarti when she calls for it to be “not just independent but broadly focused”. This second point is vital. Often inquiries such as this fail to look beyond the actions of individual intelligence officers and their immediate superior. In this instance, it is imperative that we establish the lines of political responsibility as well.

If we seek to rebuild our position with those peoples and those countries which we wronged in this war, this will be a good place to start.

Then perhaps we can explore how much we can defend our society by the methods of coercion and aggression and remain a society worth defending. And whether, ultimately, we get the villains we deserve.

Samuel Muston is a freelance journalist and former aide to Zac Goldsmith MP

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