It is a story very much of our time. A dozen or so people, some of whom had been given asylum in this country, were detained in Afghanistan or Pakistan while allegedly providing support to our enemies, and now are to be given large sums of taxpayers’ money. Why? Because they claim to have been kidnapped and tortured – not by British officials, but by the security agencies of other countries.
They sued the British Government, saying that MI5 and MI6 officers were “complicit” in their alleged torture and rendition because they had provided questions for them to answer. The two agencies deny that – but defending themselves against the allegations would take too long, be too expensive and divert too many resources. More than that, it could compromise national security by divulging secret information, further harming our crucial intelligence relationship with the United States.
So the Government has decided to settle the claims, even with those whose connections to this country were tenuous, and even though – for all the brickbats hurled at our security services – their complicity in torture has been neither demonstrated nor conceded. That is now a matter for the inquiry announced by David Cameron – though if it finds that the allegations are untrue, the compensation will not be repaid. All told, the Government has adopted a pragmatic position. But that does not make this outcome any easier to accept.