Saturday, February 13, 2010

Binyam Mohamed storm widens as Johnson defends MI5 over torture.

The government have come out fighting over the allegations that they knew that Americans were torturing Binyam Mohamed, with the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, leading the charge by claiming that the media are publishing "groundless accusations" and spreading "ludicrous lies" about the Security Service.

That is at the centre of this week's appeal court ruling, which disclosed CIA-based intelligence showing that MI5 knew that British resident Binyam Mohamed had been subjected to treatment "at the very least cruel, inhuman, and degrading".

The appeal court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, also referred to a recent US court case where the judge vindicated Mohamed's claims that "UK authorities" had been "involved in and facilitated the ill-treatment and torture" to which he was subjected while under the control of the US.

The fact that Mohamed was tortured has now been confirmed by two courts, one British and one American, so one is left wondering how Johnson is able to produce such outrage. I imagine it is because allegations have been made that MI5 misled the government.

I note, however, that both Alan Johnson and Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, have been careful to use the same delicately balanced phrase:
"We did not practise mistreatment or torture and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf."
After Blair recently relied on his "I believe" phrase to utterly change the meaning of an assurance he gave to parliament, I am left wondering what the "get out clause" is in this carefully worded phrase.

Is it that they did not encourage the Americans to torture? Or would they argue that what was being done was not being done on their behalf?

Johnson also stated:
"People can make their arguments and their assertions, but that shouldn't be taken by some commentators in the media as true simply because someone has said it's true."
The problem for Johnson is that the "people" who have made this assertion are two different courts of law, one in the US and now one in the UK. And the person who made the strongest allegation of all was Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls. So this can hardly be swept aside with the phrase "people can make arguments" as if these allegations were something overheard at the water cooler. These were rulings made by the appeal court, they were not speculative assertions as Johnson is now attempting to portray them.

Nick Clegg came closest to nailing the argument in my opinion:
Clegg demanded to know if ministers were told the US had changed its rules on torture after the 9/11 attacks. Either the government knew, or the Security Service was engaged in a cover-up, he claimed. He said: "We must know who in Britain knew the US had changed the rules on torture, when they knew and what action they took. We can only conclude that the Security Services either kept the information to themselves, or they informed ministers who failed to act immediately. "Both of these would suggest at best a cover-up and at worst collusion in torture. Knowledge of Britain's potential complicity in torture looks likely to have gone to the very top of government," he said.
The court stated this:

The court papers disclosed yesterday confirmed that he had endured brutal treatment and made plain that details were passed to MI5. They said: "We regret to have to conclude that the reports provided to the SyS [security services] made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment."

They added: "It could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities."

So, Clegg for my money, has hit the nail on the head. The court says that the reports "made clear to anyone reading them" that BM was being tortured. And yet the government are claiming that they (a) did not know that he was being tortured and (b) that the security services were not withholding information from them.

One of those statements has to be false as the reports in the security services possession made the torture "clear to anyone reading them".

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