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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 

Any inquiry would be better than no inquiry.

Despite the reaction of most human rights groups, the decision to abandon the Gibson inquiry into alleged British collusion in the torture of rendered detainees is not one to welcome wholeheartedly. Ostensibly for the reason that a new police investigation will now begin into the allegations made by two Libyan men that they were abandoned by ministers and the security services to the mercies of the Gaddafi regime, delaying further the already much postponed hearing of evidence, you also can't help but detect other reasons below the surface.

The Leveson inquiry is after all, in spite of initial misgivings, managing to swiftly get on with its work, getting around the problem of some would be key witnesses having been arrested by going through its remit in stages. One assumes that the inquiry is also being careful not to call those that the police could still decide are of interest to their investigation, although some who have been questioned by the police such as Neil Wallis and Neville Thurlbeck have still appeared and simply not been asked questions specifically on phone hacking. While it would have been more difficult for the Gibson inquiry to sidestep this potential problem quite so nimbly, as there are undoubtedly fewer important figures they would be interested in speaking to who wouldn't in some way be caught up in the new investigation, it seems bizarre how one inquiry can seemingly manage to do it and another can't. True, there is a major difference between the regulation of the media and the work of the security services, yet had there been the inclination these problems surely could have been surmounted.

The other challenge was the totally justified boycott of the inquiry both by the major human rights groups and by some of those who have claimed they were the victims of the policies of both the last government and the security services. These crucial witnesses were said to have met with the government on Monday in a last attempt to come to an agreement on their returning to the fold. With no deal apparently forthcoming, it's reasonable to assume that this is the real main reason Gibson has now been dumped. Intriguing then is that this has been so well received - Liberty in their statement even raise the possibility that this "delay" will mean we might actually get a "proper independent judicial inquiry". This leads to the assumption that even if there wasn't a deal reached on Monday, there was at least a promise that an inquiry would soon be held which would go some way towards meeting the demands of the likes of Liberty.

If this is the case, it has to be hoped that this promise is worth more than some of those made by previous governments concerning the security services. Despite Gibson's fundamentally flawed, purposefully crippled nature, such an inquiry would still be better than no inquiry. If it takes the police and then the CPS around the same amount of time to investigate the claims of Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi as it did to decide that Witness B and the others involved in Binyam Mohamed's case should not face charges, then it's likely to be another two years at least before the new inquiry can even begin to start its work. This will then additionally depend on just who the justice and foreign office ministers are at that point - there's no guarantee that there'll be as sympathetic as both Ken Clarke and Alistair Burt appear to be at the moment, Cameron continuing to keep his pre-election pledge or not. Even then it's hardly certain that the inquiry will be any less secret or more open than the Gibson one was going to be; the green paper on justice does little to inspire confidence that the security services won't lobby hard to keep their past handiwork almost completely in the shadows.

It will also mean it'll be nigh on a decade since much of the alleged collusion took place. Even if all the relevant documentation is made available, a very big if considering the problems that the Chilcot inquiry has had in that regard, the problem of failing memories can only combated when combined with exceptional detail, as the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday showcased. With even the report on the research conducted by the Gibson committee to be redacted, it's little wonder some are already suggesting that this may be a chance for truth lost forever. The longer it takes, the more likely those who authorised the collusion will get away it.

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