For years British government ministers and intelligence chiefs have denied involvement in a practice that became known as “rendition”, the abduction and torture of terrorism suspects. This practice drew major public attention following the events of September 11, 2001, in the United States of America. Governments in both the USA and the UK have been evasive over the issue of rendition.
The extent of evasion can be seen in the actions of Jack Straw, the foreign secretary under the last Labour government – at the time when most of the abuses occurred. He went so far as to tell the Commons foreign affairs committee that “any suggestion of UK involvement in rendition was a conspiracy theory”. What was it about “many a true word…”? It was Straw, moreover, who had further suggested that “the law might be amended to allow suspects to be rendered to the U.K.”
Following a recent and damning official inquiry into the matter of rendition, the Gibson inquiry concluded that the government and its intelligence agencies had, in fact, been involved in rendition operations, in which “detainees were kidnapped and flown around the globe.” So too, the British government knew that the detainees were being mistreated but had colluded in their interrogation. This was meant to be a British government response to the so-called “war on terror” (a term increasingly being used to describe any form of violence at odds with government policy or with which it seeks to justify overseas military intervention or action by intelligence agencies at home or abroad).
Sir Robert Gibson, a retired appeal court judge, and Dame Janet Paraskeva, a government official, were the compilers of the Gibson Report. The report was completed nearly 18 months ago, but has remained unpublished while its authors’ resisted government attempts to censor their work. Many questions were raised by the report. However, the enquiry and its investigations, and the many questions so far raised, have now been handed-over by the government to the intelligence and security committee (ISC). This is a secretive cross-party body that is supposed to provide oversight of the security agencies. The hand-over smacks of government subterfuge.
It is reported that Gibson enquiry members were “disappointed” at this government move, and there is a distinct lack of clarity as to whether the public will ever hear about or see the outcomes of any questions raised by the inquiry. It would appear that there are some things we are not meant to hear of or know about. Which individual or group, however, has the right to determine this?
It is reported that a man named Robert Brown, 58, an accountant living in Jersey, has been granted permission to seek judicial review of a refusal to allow him access under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to documents he says show there was a “secret judicial process for sealing royal wills”.
Brown claims he may be the illegitimate son of the late Princess Margaret and that he needs to see the contents of the wills of the current Queen’s sister and mother. The royal wills were drawn up around the time of Margaret’s death in 2002 and sealed to keep their contents secret. Robert Brown is of the opinion that the royal wills could be a major part of the proof that Margaret hid a pregnancy in 1955 and he is her secret child.
Brown’s original legal challenge was branded “scandalous and irrational” by a previous court of appeal ruling. However, a high court hearing in London has concluded that there were “compelling constitutional reasons to allow Brown’s legal challenge to go ahead”, as the case gave rise to “important points of principle and practice for open justice and the public interest”.
Of his claim to royal parentage, Brown has said, “Hopefully I am not a nutcase. Either I am right or I am wrong.” Nutcase or not, it is not wrong that Robert Brown has the right to know his origins – royal or otherwise.
Is he a patriot or a pariah? These are but two options open to public opinion about Edward Snowden. The reader will recall that Snowden is the former employee of the United States intelligence service who leaked documents to some of the leading newspapers on either side of the pond.
Snowden’s actions led to all kinds of government and security services’ recriminations and responses, including the seeming need “to prove one’s patriotism before discussing intelligence information, being visited by the police, being brought before government committees or having one’s computer taken away or smashed-up by state-employed technicians”. In particular, The Guardian newspaper came in for severe government and other newspapers’ criticism for its publishing of some of Snowden’s revelations.
Now, the 300 page report into the revelations in The Guardian about the USA National Security Agency – commissioned by President Obama and recently published – is, according to the newspaper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, “wide-ranging, informed and thoughtful.” Moreover, the editor considers that the report, far from blaming journalism for “dragging the subject into the open; celebrates it.”
In recent months, since the Snowden revelations, intelligence chiefs have been warning of the dangers of making public what, in their view, should be known only to intelligence and security agencies. The report, however, makes it abundantly clear that it is in the public interest for journalists to venture into the territory once thought only the preserve of such as MI5, MI6 and the USA National Security Agency.
Therefore, “intrusions in to private lives using almost-Orwellian technology, is almost certainly unconstitutional”. The systematic and hi-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen is an “indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion of the lives of ordinary citizens no matter what basis such an invasion is given”. As well as the issue of civil liberties, there is also the matter of the damage that “unconstrained espionage can cause to trade, commerce and the digital economy.”
The panel of experts who published the report commissioned by Barack Obama said that “it will not do for the press to be fearful of, intimidated or cowed by government officials.” Furthermore, if they are, it is “We, the People” who will suffer. Some of the report’s concluding remarks point out that “Part of the responsibility of our free press is to ferret out and expose information that government officials would prefer to keep secret when such secrecy is unwarranted.”
We, the People, need to know.