For immediate release 28th June 2018.
Commenting on the ISC’s reports published today Mr Straw said:
“These are extremely important reports, which need to be taken very seriously and their conclusions followed through.
As the report makes clear (para 150) I was not invited to give evidence to the committee, though I would have been pleased to do so, had I been asked.
The report correctly draws attention to the extremely difficult and highly pressured circumstances in which the agencies were working in the post 9/11 period.
Although I was formally responsible for both SIS and GCHQ during my period as Foreign Secretary (June 2001 to May 2006) I have today learnt much about the activities and the approach of these agencies of which I was not aware before.
This is confirmed by the report. It states at para 144:
“It is notable that none of the Agencies undertook to brief their Ministers during the2001–2004 period – due, they say, to their lack of understanding of the situation. The Heads of SIS and MI5 have acknowledged that they should have kept their Ministers better informed.
“For example, the Chief of SIS, when discussing the CUCKOO case, told us: we concede that we didn’t talk to Ministers enough about this stuff. ... There should have been a conversation with Ministers at this stage and there wasn’t. ... I think this [the treatment of detainees] was, as a category of issue, not [seen] by the senior leadership at that time to cross the Ministerial threshold. So there was not an extensive conversation with Ministers about this because, as I’ve said, we did not pull this together as a strategic issue until quite some time after the things that we’re discussing now, and that’s what triggered the Ministerial conversation.”
And, at para 163, the Committee says:
“While 2004 onwards finally saw the Agencies joining the dots, and this led to an increase in policy discussions and guidance and training, a genuine understanding of the situation – and therefore the seriousness of the position in which the UK had found itself – was still slow to dawn. Crucially, it appears that Ministers were still not being kept fully informed. The process had improved and, in particular, SIS was informing the FCO and the Foreign Secretary more often of cases where there were concerns over possible mistreatment; however, there were still instances where Ministers were not provided with the complete picture.”
The report also shows that where I was involved in decisions I consistently sought to ensure that the United Kingdom did act in accordance with its long stated policies, and international norms. I made repeated representations about the British detainees in Guantanamo Bay, which in the end were successful in securing their release.
Many lessons, including about the operation of the agencies and their relationship with Ministers and their officials have since been learnt; there are more which should follow this report.”