A British court’s judgment makes plain that it believes that a British subject held at Guantánamo was tortured, and that the United States had threatened the British Government over disclosure of the details of the torture.
Evidence of how a British resident held in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp was tortured, and what MI5 knew about it, must remain secret because of serious threats the US has made against the UK, the high court ruled today. The judges made clear they were deeply unhappy with their decision, but said they had no alternative as a result of a statement by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, that if the evidence was disclosed the US would stop sharing intelligence with Britain. That would directly threaten the UK’s national security, Miliband had told the court.
The revelations prompted immediate action in Parliament:
David Davis, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, said ministers must urgently respond to the allegations that Britain was complicit in torture. He demanded a Commons statement from the government on the ruling, calling it “a matter of utmost national importance”. Davis said: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the [Binyam] Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our high court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom. “The judge rules that there is a strong public interest that this information is put in the public domain even though it is politically embarrassing.
In essence, Bush Administration officials, led by John Bellinger, the legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice, were threatening the British Government with retaliatory measures if the British Court were to compel the disclosure of the torture. The compelling question is whether the Bush Administration officials were moved by national security concerns (which they will certainly claim), or rather, as is far more likely, by concern that the disclosures would fuel further demands for a U.S. criminal investigation of their own conduct, followed by their possible indictment and trial.
The Court suggests that even after the change in administration in Washington, no change has come in the U.S. position:
It was submitted to us by Mr David Rose that the situation had changed significantly following the election of President Obama who was avowedly determined to eschew torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and to close Guantanamo Bay. We have, however, been informed by counsel for the Foreign Secretary that the position has not changed. Our current understanding is therefore that the position remains the same, even after the making of the Executive Orders by President Obama on 22 January 2009 to which we have referred at paragraph 9 above.
The Obama Administration should put an end to this embarrassing incident by making public the evidence in question concerning the torture of Binyam Mohamed. It should make clear that the United States will not take retaliatory steps against governments over disclosure of evidence of criminal misconduct such as torture. This marks the second time in recent memory that the British government has halted court proceedings by representing that a foreign nation had threatened to suspend intelligence cooperation if the case proceeded. The other case was a foreign corruption investigation focusing on a landmark sale of aircraft to Saudi Arabia.