UK human rights watchdog demands British torture inquiry panel holds hearings in public

LONDON (AP) — Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission on Monday urged the head of an inquiry into allegations the U.K. colluded in the torture of suspected terrorists overseas to hold as many hearings as possible in public.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the inquiry in June amid accusations that British spies and government officials were complicit in the mistreatment of detainees held by the U.S. and other allies in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In a letter, the commission's legal director John Wadham asked the former appeals court judge Peter Gibson, who is leading the investigation, to also ensure his review examines decisions taken by senior ministers, not just junior officials.

British spies have not been accused of torturing detainees, but several former suspects have alleged that officials colluded in their mistreatment by supplying questions to their captors, or by failing to report concerns about mistreatment.

In the most notorious case, Binyam Mohamed, an ex-Guantanamo Bay inmate who is among 12 former detainees now suing the British government, says he was severely beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation and had his genitals sliced with a scalpel while held in Morocco.

Wadham's letter called on Gibson's three person panel to "trace accountability up from agents in the field to those higher up the chain of command, together with lawyers, doctors and others who may have been involved."

The commission was created by Britain's government to uphold human rights, but is independent from ministerial control.

Wadham asked Gibson, who is also Intelligence Services Commissioner, Britain's spy watchdog, since April 2006, to hold "as many sessions as possible" of his inquiry in public.

Gibson has not yet announced whether hearings will be held in public, but Cameron has confirmed intelligence officials will not be expected to appear at public sessions to protect their identity.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said last month that the government will overhaul current practices based on Gibson's recommendations. "We will act on the lessons learnt, and tackle the difficult issues we currently face head on," he said

Hague said the investigation was necessary to "clear the stain from our reputation as a country."

The inquiry will begin once police have concluded a criminal investigation into allegations made against two officers from the Britain's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. Cameron said he hoped Gibson's investigation will be under way before the end of the year, and last about 12 months.