An inquiry into the alleged torture of UK terror suspects is to be boycotted by campaigners and lawyers of suspected victims over concerns about the transparency and credibility of the investigation.
The inquiry, headed by Sir Peter Gibson, was set up a year ago by Prime Minister David Cameron amid allegations that the British security services were aware of or involved in the mistreatment and torture of detainees held abroad. The inquiry was initially cautiously welcomed by charities and campaigners.
However, the release last month of the terms and protocols of the inquiry was met with widespread criticism from campaign groups including Reprieve and Liberty, as well as from lawyers representing those claiming to have been victims.
Key court sessions are to be held in secret and and information will be assumed to be secret unless already in the public domain. The final say over the releasing of information to the public will rest with the cabinet secretary. In addition, MI5 and MI6 officers will not have to face questioning from alleged victims, and foreign intelligence agencies will not be questioned.
A letter signed by 10 human rights charities, including Amnesty International, Justice and Liberty, said that they were particularly disappointed that "the issue of what material may be disclosed to the public will not be determined independently of government and, further, that there will be no meaningful participation of the former and current detainees and other interested third parties."
The charities also argue that the inquiry in its current form would not comply with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the government's obligations to investigate claims of torture.
A second letter, written by lawyers representing former detainees at Guantánamo Bay, said that the new rules "simply serves to demonstrate that there is no comprehension on the part of the government of the gravity of the crimes which representatives of the state may have committed".
"We had hoped as lawyers to assist in a transparent exercise of vital importance. It is a matter of profound regret that our assessment is that the inquiry does not provide the means by which this can be realised.
"In the absence of there being any alteration to the protocols, our advice is compelled to be that it is inappropriate for our clients to submit evidence."
Claims that the inquiry was secretive and flawed were denied by former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who accused campaigners of "cutting off their nose to spite their face".
"I cannot recollect an inquiry that's been proposed to be so open as we're having in this particular case," he said.
"When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 - the prime minister has made quite clear - can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evidence?"
A spokesperson for the inquiry said that the campaigners' and lawyers' decision was regrettable, but made it clear that the inquiry would go ahead regardless.
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