Friday, February 06, 2009

Ministers 'misled' judges over torture evidence.

I said yesterday that I found it hard to believe that the new Obama administration had made the threats which David Miliband was claiming they had made; namely, that they would stop sharing intelligence with the UK if a British court released details which proved a British resident had been tortured whilst in US custody.

Because of Miliband's claim the judges made clear that they had no choice other than to forbid the release of the information on the grounds of national security.

However, it now transpires that Miliband might have been gilding the lily.

In their ruling, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said they decided not to release the documents because Mr Miliband believed there was a "real risk" that the potential loss of intelligence co-operation would seriously increase the terror threat faced by the UK. Yesterday, however, the Foreign Secretary told MPs that Washington did not "threaten" to break off co-operation, but had simply affirmed that the sharing of information could be damaged.

Mr Mohamed, an Ethiopian, was granted refugee status in the UK in 1994. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and handed over to US agents. He claims he was secretly flown to Morocco and tortured before being moved to Afghanistan and finally, in 2004, to the US naval base in Cuba, where he remains. All terror charges against him were dropped last year.

He says the evidence against him was based on confessions extracted by torture and ill-treatment – a claim denied by the US – and that British agencies were complicit in his torture.

Last night, his lawyers wrote to the High Court to ask the two judges to reconsider their judgment, arguing that ministers were now denying that disclosure of the CIA dossier threatened joint anti-terror operations. Mr Mohamed's counsel, Dinah Rose, QC, quoted Mr Miliband as saying that no threat to end intelligence-sharing was ever made to Britain by the US.

Mr Mohamed's legal team says it is clear that the perceived threat of non-co-operation was crucial to the court's decision not to release the dossier, even though it was in the public interest to do so. "These admissions by the Foreign Secretary would seem to undermine the whole basis of the court's reluctant decision to refuse to publish those details," said a spokesman.

In the Commons earlier, Mr Miliband dismissed calls to urge the new US administration to disclose information about the treatment of a terror suspect at Guantanamo Bay. He denied the White House had ever threatened to "break off" co-operation, but argued that the mutual trust essential to the sharing of sensitive intelligence would be undermined if Britain insisted on publication. Such a move would "cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country," he told MPs.

So, we now have Miliband essentially making the same argument, but simply removing the American threat from the equation. He now appears to be making the argument that the Americans might stop sharing information with us.

But that wasn't the argument that he made to the court which led to the decision to withhold this information.

Opposition parties accused the Foreign Secretary of striking a "shabby and shady" deal with the White House. Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for foreign affairs, said the Government was trying to avoid embarrassing the US by covering up evidence of torture.

"The point at question is not a threat to our security coming from terrorists, but a threat to our security coming from our closest ally," he said. "The Foreign Secretary should have made it clear to our American friends that this country's opposition to torture meant we would have nothing to do with intelligence gathered that way. Instead, the British Government just rolled over in the face of a scarcely credible threat from a friend."

It is, as Davey says, a "scarcely credible" threat. I am quite sure that intelligence cuts both ways and that we give as much as we receive in return, so it makes no sense to claim that the US would refuse to share intelligence with such a strong ally as the UK.

It sounds to me as if Miliband is simply scared to do anything which might embarrass the new Obama administration and jeopardise his relationship with Clinton and the new team.

To that end he is willing to suppress the evidence of torture of a British resident. A resident who has had all terror charges against him dropped.
Mr Miliband said he had discussed Mr Mohamed's case with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when they met in Washington this week. But he insisted: "I am not going to join a lobbying campaign against the American government for this decision."
Of course he's not. God forbid he should ever put the truth and what is right before diplomatic niceties.

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