David Cameron has said a "judge-led" inquiry
will look at claims that UK security services were complicit in the
torture of terror suspects.
The prime minister promised compensation for victims if it
was found foreign agents had committed abuses with UK counterparts
Mr Cameron told MPs that to ignore the claims would risk
operatives' reputation "being tarnished".
On-going criminal and civil cases must end before the inquiry
starts, he said.
The findings of the "fully independent" investigation,
chaired by former Appeal Court judge Sir Peter Gibson, would be
published by the end of the year, the prime minister added.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have long called for
an investigation into the claims by Ethiopian-born UK resident Binyam
Mohamed that UK security services were aware of his torture by foreign
interrogators, who were allegedly fed questions via the CIA.
Mr Cameron told
MPs: "For the past few years the reputation of our security services has
been overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the
treatment of detainees held by other countries.
"Some of those detainees allege they were mistreated by those
countries. Other allegations have also been made about the UK's
involvement in the rendition of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11.
"These allegations are not proven but today we do face a
totally unacceptable situation. Our services are paralysed by paperwork
as they try to defend themselves in lengthy court cases with uncertain
"Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, fairness
and the rule of law - indeed for much of what the services exist to
protect - risks being tarnished."
The panel conducting the inquiry would have access to all
relevant papers, the prime minister promised, with some proceedings held
He indicated the government was ready to provide mediation to
people pursuing civil cases in relation to their detention in the
US-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
The prime minister's spokesman acknowledged the inquiry would
have access only to UK papers and personnel - not those of other
countries such as the US.
Labour leader Harriet Harman supported the inquiry, saying
that any incidents of torture were "morally abhorrent" and a "grave
crime against humanity".
She added: "There must be no hiding place for those who
practise it and no excuse for those who turn a blind eye.
"The United Kingdom should always be at the forefront of
international efforts to detect and expose torture, and to bring those
responsible for it to justice."
Mr Mohamed says
he was tortured after being held in Pakistan in 2002, and subsequently
moved to Morocco and Afghanistan.
He maintains the only evidence against him was obtained
through such methods. Mr Mohamed also says agents from the UK's MI5 knew
about this and fed questions to his interrogators through the CIA.
But UK security services say they do not use or condone
torture and the government is publishing the guidance to the UK security
services, including a directive not to take any action which they know
or believe could lead to torture by operatives from abroad.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "An inquiry
into British complicity in torture is welcome and overdue but this
announcement leaves room for fears that government is bending towards
the security establishment.
"They wouldn't be in this mess but for all the excuses for
secret stitch-ups instead of open justice."
Tom Porteous, UK director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This
inquiry must be demonstrably independent, comprehensive and to the
greatest extent possible public.
"An inquiry done well can help ensure that British abuses are
not repeated and restore Britain's reputation as an anti-torture
champion. The publication of the guidance is a welcome step. We will
examine the details closely."