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UN rights expert questions UK torture inquiry

A UN official on Saturday expressed concern regarding the lack of transparency in an inquiry by the UK into allegations that its secret services were complicit in torture of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. The UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has doubts as to whether the proposed inquiry will meet international standards [Guardian report], while other human rights organizations criticize it because of its requirement that disclosures be made only with governmental approval. Additionally, the inquiry is powerless to compel witnesses or the release of relevant documents, and it provides no status in the proceedings for individuals alleging to be victims of UK torture. The combination of secrecy and limited power has led many to wonder if it will be effective in determining whether torture and other violations of human rights were committed by security services. The panel charged with completing the inquiry [JURIST report] was created by UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] in July. The need for the inquiry arose after 12 ex-detainees brought civil cases against the government, claiming that British agents took part in their mistreatment while they were held in prisons in foreign countries, including Pakistan and Morocco.

In September, a three-year probe into abuse of military detainees in Iraq was finalized with the release of a report [JURIST report] that found numerous British soldiers were involved in specific episodes of abuse of Iraqi citizens. The independent inquiry was led by retired judge William Gage and focused on the detention of 10 Iraqis arrested at a hotel in 2003 on suspicion of insurgency. One man, Baha Mousa, died in custody from what was concluded [AFP report] to be a combination of soldier-inflicted injuries and a generally weakened state resulting from his detention. Mousa and the other Iraqi detainees were hooded, handcuffed and held in stress positions by the British soldiers and were subjected to a series of violent assaults. Mousa, a father of two, served as the hotel's receptionist and died about 36 hours after being detained, sustaining 93 separate injuries including fractured ribs and a broken nose. Although the use of hooding and painful stress positions was banned by the British government in 1972, Gage found a lack of knowledge of this prohibition, which he reportedly blamed on "corporate failure" by the UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) [official website]. The report also accused other soldiers of having knowledge of the abuse but not the "moral courage" to report the incidents.

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