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Will the NOTW Inquiry, Like Torture, be Quietly Buried?

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Last week saw one of those little-noticed coincidences in British politics: as one inquiry into a very public scandal came struggling into the world, the slow death of another began.

The chances are you'll have heard about David Cameron's announcement of an inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World. But amid the fury around the paper's unbelievable callousness, the first stages in the quiet burial of the Gibson Inquiry - concerned with the role of our country's security services in the torture, rendition and illegal imprisonment of those swept up by the 'War on Terror' - have gone almost entirely unnoticed.

Many people may be understandably unconcerned by the lack of media attention for this event - citing the inevitable exhaustion of press and public interest in an issue that has dragged on for years, or the incomprehensible excitement of human rights geeks around the Inquiry's 'terms of reference' and 'protocols'.

But for the millions of British people currently fuming at the way in which the NOTW so clearly overstepped the mark of public decency, the fate of the torture inquiry should be a stark warning. As the months have dragged on, public outrage has faded, the issue has dropped from the headlines, and the Government has ultimately been left a largely free hand to establish a toothless and excessively secretive body which few now hope will do much to get to the bottom of what happened.

Sir Peter Gibson's Inquiry will not have the power to compel witnesses to attend, or evidence to be produced. The level of secrecy will be overwhelming, with little or no chance for the security services to be meaningfully questioned on their activities. And the final decision on what is made public will rest with the Prime Minister.

Even if you don't care about what abuses were carried out by UK security services - and, of course, you should - just try projecting these conditions a few months into the future when the NOTW inquiry is established: imagine an inquiry which will be unable to insist that the journalists implicated attend, or that they turn over the records concerning what they did; in which those who hacked the phones of murder victims are questioned in secret, free from any worry of being cross-questioned by their victims or their lawyers; and in which the ultimate decision on whether to publish a report which might make difficult reading for, say, Andy Coulson rests with his former employer in No 10.

This hasn't happened yet, but there are ominous parallels - both inquiries are set to be held under the conveniently vague and relatively powerless conditions of being 'judge-led', rather than 'judicial', or 'public'. David Cameron has even held up the Gibson Inquiry as a 'good example' for the NOTW one.

The Government still has time to toughen up the Gibson Inquiry, and ensure it produces some real answers. And it has to be hoped that the MPs and the journalists who made so much noise when we first heard about MI5's collusion in the brutal treatment of people like Binyam Mohamed will still hold ministers to their promises.

But if it is too late for Gibson, it still needs to be part of a larger conversation we have in this country about real accountability. The cycle of revelation, outrage, inquiry and whitewash has become depressingly familiar. You should care about the torture inquiry - even if only to make it clear to the Government that you won't allow them to bury the hacking inquiry in the same way.