Reuters reported a sad and sorry Guantanamo tale yesterday:
Two senior British judges accused the United States on Wednesday of threatening to end intelligence cooperation if Britain released evidence about the alleged torture of a Guantanamo detainee.
The judges quoted lawyers for Foreign Secretary David Miliband as saying the U.S. government, by reviewing intelligence cooperation, “could inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.”
According to the ruling from High Court judges Lord Justice Thomas and Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, Miliband’s lawyers said the threat had existed for some time and was still in place under President Barack Obama’s administration.
A nice little furore erupted in Britain yesterday over this U.S. government strong-arming, and everyone concerned is now denying that the U.S. ever actually threatened to end intelligence cooperation. This is despite the fact that “Foreign Office lawyers (have) given formal testimony to the High Court that this was the case”. (I’ll come back to this later.)
First, the background: Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian-born British resident, an electrical engineer, who is held at Guantanamo Bay.
Mohamed, arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, was accused of training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, joining a squad of al Qaeda bomb-makers in Pakistan and plotting to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States.
In October, the Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes court dismissed all charges against Mohamed, who says he falsely confessed to a radioactive “dirty bomb” plot while being tortured in a Moroccan prison.
Binyam Mohamed, of course, continues to be held at Guantanamo, since in Guantanamo-world dismissal of all charges doesn’t necessarily lead to release. The crux of the current furore is Binyam Mohamed’s allegations that he was tortured by U.S. agents all over the globe, with the active assistance of British intelligence. Here’s the BBC‘s bowdlerized version:
Mr Mohamed, 30, alleges he was tortured by US agents in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004 and that UK agencies were complicit in the practice.
The Times provides some of the horrific details:
By his account he was tortured; his penis and chest sliced with a scalpel and a hot stinging liquid was poured into the open wounds.
(Incidentally, in Bushworld it was considered perfectly kosher to use statements that were voluntarily given by Binyam Mohamed in between bouts of having his penis slashed with a scalpel in legal proceedings against Jose Padilla.)
In the U.K., both the public and the media still condemn torture (by whatever sanitized phrase it is described) every bit as strongly as they used to back in, say, 2000. Binyam Mohamed’s allegations of torture, and of British complicity in the torture, caused widespread outrage.
MI6 obtained permission from the US to interview Mr Mohamed. He alleges that his torturers later tried to break his will by giving details of his education in Britain, the name of his kickboxing trainer and his friendships. Only British intelligence could have passed this information, he believes.
The media called for full disclosure:
British media had applied to the court for the release of full details of the evidence the British government held about the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who is held in Guantanamo Bay.
Full details refers essentially to seven “sensitive paragraphs supplied by U.S. intelligence services and kept out of an initial judgement last August”. Lord Justices Thomas and Lloyd Jones were sympathetic to the release request:
The judges said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability.
But lawyers for Foreign Secretary Miliband raised the specter of the U.S. government, by reviewing intelligence cooperation, inflicting “on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.” Daunted by this prospect, the judges reluctantly (and angrily) rejected the full disclosure request:
We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials … relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.
Let’s return to the denials that there was any strong-arming by the U.S. Here’s what we’re now being told:
But the foreign secretary said there had been “no threat” from the US.
Mr Miliband said confidentiality was key to intelligence sharing, a view later backed by the White House.
In a statement, the White House said it “thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information”.
It added that this would “preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens”.
A spokesman at the US Embassy in London added that it did not “threaten allies”.
There are only two possibilities here:
— Foreign Office lawyers lied to the judges under oath
— The British and U.S. governments, not under oath, are lying about the blackmail
In effect, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has publicly declared that the Foreign Office lawyers committed perjury:
Mr Miliband insisted last night that there had been no threat from the US to “break off” intelligence co-operation, despite Foreign Office lawyers having given formal testimony to the High Court that this was the case.
But if they committed perjury, they could only have done so under instructions from Miliband. And there will no doubt be a big ruckus about this in the U.K., and pressure for a full investigation.
But that’s their scandal. We should focus on ours.
Nothing is really gained by keeping those seven paragraphs secret. The British and U.S. governments would be embarrassed, no doubt, by their release, but national security would certainly not be compromised in any way. This has been attested to by a British judge who has reviewed their content:
William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary said: “No British government should participate in or condone torture under any circumstances, and we are reassured by the court that the failure to disclose this material will not prevent the prosecution of anyone from this country who was complicit in torture. We hope the new US administration will look again at this decision, particularly since the judge concluded that there were no security reasons for the material not to be made public.”
Dishonestly invoking national security considerations to keep embarrassing facts secret was a Bush administration tactic which Obama implicitly promised to disavow. Here’s his chance. And, let’s face it: the British and U.S. governments already stand considerably embarrassed by what is known and believed.
So Obama’s choice is simply: does he really want to embrace the dishonesties and immoralities of Bushworld just to save the U.S. government a little additional embarrassment?
Whether or not these seven paragraphs are released will let us know what he decided.