Thursday, February 05, 2009

Miliband: American threats meant "the public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk".

I spoke yesterday about the "special relationship" between the US and the UK and the way it is viewed with suspicion by many of us on this side of the pond.

The perfect example of why we are so suspicious is all over our papers this morning. Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, who is currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, claims that he was tortured whilst in custody. However, David Miliband has claimed that UK judges cannot release "powerful evidence" that Mohamed might have been tortured in case the Americans stop sharing intelligence with us and, therefore, put our national security at risk.

Two senior judges said they were powerless to reveal the information about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, because David Miliband, the foreign secretary, had warned the court the US was threatening to stop sharing intelligence about terrorism with the UK.

In a scathing judgment, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said the evidence, and what MI5 knew about it, must remain secret because according to Miliband, the American threats meant "the public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk".

The judges made clear they were unhappy with their decision, but said they had no alternative as a result of Miliband's claim. Their ruling revealed that Miliband stuck to his position about the threat to the UK even after Barack Obama signed orders two weeks ago banning torture and announcing the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

Miliband appeared on TV last night, attempting to backtrack, but only made the situation seem even worse:
"It's American information and it is for the Americans to decide whether to publish their information," Miliband told Channel 4 television.
He's the British Foreign Secretary, talking about whether or not a British resident has been tortured, and he's telling us that our ally in the war on terror will stop sharing information with us, that they will actually put our country at risk, if a court reveals what they did to a British resident in their custody.

It's no wonder that the judges are as scathing as they are in making their outrage known.

The ruling, studded with thinly disguised attacks on the attitude of the foreign secretary and the American authorities, came after the judges last year invited the Guardian and other media groups to overturn Miliband's refusal to disclose information in the documents given to him by the US. In a telling passage, the judges said: "Given [the documents'] source and detail, they would ... amount to powerful evidence". None of the contents at issue could possibly be described as sensitive US intelligence, they said.

In further stinging comments they said: "Moreover, in the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States, it was, in our view, very difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.

"Indeed 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." The judges said yesterday: "It is plainly right that the details of the admissions in relation to the treatment of [Mohamed] as reported by officials of the United States government should be brought into the public domain."

And the US state department appeared to confirm that this is the US position even under the new Obama regime:
A spokesman for the US state department said: "The US thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long standing intelligence-sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens."
There is no national security threat to either country here, other than the one brought about by the US threatening to stop sharing information with the UK if this evidence is released.

But the very fact that such a threat has been made is outrageous. Indeed, if this is true, then the US are subjecting Britain to the crudest form of blackmail.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said last night: "Despite best efforts to shine a light on the grubbiest aspects of the 'war on terror', the Foreign Office has claimed that the Obama administration maintained a previous US threat to reconsider intelligence sharing unless our judges kept this shameful skeleton in the closet. We find this Foreign Office allegation ... surprising."
It's hard to believe that this threat was issued by Obama's administration, especially as the evidence it suppresses was of crimes committed by the previous US administration. So we are left with two options: either Obama's new regime are treating us with such contempt, or Miliband is so frightened of annoying them that he is willing to suppress "powerful evidence" that a British resident was tortured.

Neither option makes one feel especially proud of the "special relationship".

Click title for full article.

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