The Government suffered what can only be described as a humiliating defeat today after the High Court reinforced a previous judgment that seven previously redacted paragraphs contained within in CIA evidentiary documentation relating to the arrest and detention of Binyam Mohamed on suspicion of complicity in acts of terrorism should be made public. The paragraphs lend weight to the suggestion that Mohamed suffered severe physical and psychological torture whilst in U.S. custody. Many believe that this was with full knowledge of MI5. More details after the jump.
Controversy has surrounded the case of Binyam Mohamed, 31, who since his return to the UK earlier this year has accused his captors of carrying out acts of torture including beatings, threats, the ever controversial “waterboarding”, and having his genitals cut with razorblades. A UK citizen since 1994, Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism, and under the guise of the U.S. “rendition” programme was ferried to Morocco, then Afghanistan and then finally Guantanamo Bay. He was released without charge earlier this year. Mohamed alleges that MI5 personnel provided key background informaton to his captors, advised of specific questions to be asked, and that at some points were also involved in the questioning and torture.
Originally, Milliband reluctantly ruled that previously classified CIA documents relating to the case against Mohamed and his treatment whilst “in the care” of the U.S. government could be released to the public – but with seven key paragraphs relating to matters unkown redacted on grounds of “national security interests”. It was feared that releasing sensitive information that has passed between the UK and the U.S. intelligence services would cause irreparable harm to the intelligence relationship they share, and make the U.S. less keen to share furutre intelligence with the UK for fear it would be made public.
Mohamed, backed by legal counsel and supported by human rights organisations, demanded that these paragraphs be made public also, as it would be more in the public interest to know if the Government was complicit and aware of acts of torture carried out on British subjects with the full knowledge of both them and British intelligence agencies. Many people felt at the time that the desire to “black out” these paragraphs supported these claims, and that the Government was putting the “special relationship” with its allies ahead of the protection and rights of its citizens.
In today’s landmark judgement at the High Court Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones ruled that the paragraphs should be released for public consumption as this material and similar claims had already been released in a separate legal action in the United States, and verified as true by a U.S. Judge. It was ruled that, as the information was no longer unavailable to the public, its release could no longer be considered a threat to national security. The Government immeduately appealed the ruling. Milliband stated:
‘At the heart of this case was the principle that if a country shares intelligence with another, that country must agree before its intelligence is released. ‘This ‘control principle’ is essential to the intelligence relationship between Britain and the US. The Government fought the case to preserve this principle, and today’s judgment upholds it.
‘It agreed that the control principle is integral to intelligence sharing. The court has today ordered the publication of the seven paragraphs because in its view their substance had been put into the public domain by a decision of a U.S. court in another case. Without that disclosure, it is clear that the Court of Appeal would have overturned the Divisional Court’s decision to publish the material.
‘The Government has made sustained and successful efforts to ensure Mr Mohamed’s legal counsel had full access to the material in question. We remain determined to uphold our very strong commitment against mistreatment of any kind.’
Interestingly, the Court they also came to a similar decision last year, but this was kept secret to allow the foreign secretary leave of appeal.
When questioned directly about the issue of collusion and torture, Milliband replied:
“Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Binyan Mohamed by the United States authorities.”
He also stated to Jon Snow of Channel 4 News that it what was done to Mohamed may not necessarily be defined as torture because torture needs to be something carried out regularly. Personally, if you hack my man-parts around even once with a razorblade to extract information from me then I am pretty much 100% certain that constitutes torture.
Finally, and somewhat irnocally, despite Milliband’s assertion that “Mr Mohamed’s legal counsel had full access to the material in question”, it was soon after revealed that a senior lawyer acting for the foreign secretary wrote to the Court of Appeal criticising some key phrases in the draft judgement without making Mohamed’s counsel aware at all. Jonathan Sumption QC suggested that certain points in the draft gave the impression that the “Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques” and requested they be removed.
This is a legal right – for all parties to be allowed to make recommendations on the draft of the judgement before it is finalised. However, it has become clear that although Sumption passed this request to the Court, he did not pass it to the team working for Mohamed – which is illegal. Any recommendations made must be disclosed to all parties in the proceedings simultaneously. The Government is not permitted to have secret dialogues with the High Court, who are independent of the Government. The letter stated that it had been cc’ed to Mohamed’s barristers, when it was in fact only passed to them the next day. On the assumption that Mohamed’s counsel was aware and had raised no counter-recommendation, the Judges redacted their comments.
With the whole affair a complete shambles, the foreign secretary reduced to scrabbling over paltry arguments about “what constitutes torutre” and fielding accusations of “nobbling the Judges”, and with MI5 and Security services coming out looking like they were aware of and participated in illegal torture of a UK citizen, it has been announced in a hilarious comedy move that MI5 are now being investigated by the police. There are also now demands for a full public inquiry into the affair. Human rights organisations are now also investigating if allegations of war crimes against both the U.S and UK governments and intelligence services should be considered.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Milliband didn’t look like the nerdy kid next door that stayed in playing D&D and practising twirly-wirly writing all day. Prat.