Thursday, February 11, 2010

Top judge: Binyam Mohamed case shows MI5 to be devious, dishonest and complicit in torture.

David Miliband has lost his long legal battle to suppress a seven-paragraph court document showing that MI5 officers were involved in the ill-treatment of a British resident, Binyam Mohamed.

It is a decision for which the White House has expressed "deep disappointment", meaning that the Obama regime would have preferred that this information had never been made public. The Obama regime's stance on this has always been one which has troubled me. Obama has said that he would stop the torture of the previous regime, but has been strenuous in his attempt to make sure that nothing was done to bring the torturers to justice.

The fact that this torture has now been clearly brought to light, perhaps makes that more difficult for him. For even though this judgment refers to the British intelligence agency MI5, the criticism is that MI5 were "complicit" in the torture of Binyam Mohamed. That torture, however, was carried out whilst Mohamed was under the control of the government of the United States.

Indeed the condemnation by one of Britain's top judges - Lord Neuberger, the master of the rolls - was so severe that the government's lawyer - Jonathan Sumption QC - wrote to him, asking him to reconsider his draft judgment before it was handed down.

The judges agreed, but much of what Neuberger stated has been made public after The Guardian and other media groups got hold of Sumption's letter outlining what he saw as the danger of Neuberger's complaints being made public.

In his letter, Sumption warned the judges that the criticism of MI5 would be seen by the public as statements by the court that the agency:

• Did not respect human rights.

• Had not renounced participation in "coercive interrogation" techniques.

• Deliberately misled MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee, who are supposed to scrutinise its work.

• Had a "culture of suppression" in its dealings with Miliband and the court.

Sumption described Neuberger's observations in his draft judgment as "an exceptionally damaging criticism of the good faith of the Security Service as a whole".

His letter also refers to the MI5 officer known as Witness B, who is understood to have interrogated Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002. Witness B gave evidence in the hearings and is now at the centre of a Scotland Yard investigation. Sumption's letter implies that Neuberger did not believe that Witness B was acting alone and that the judge believed that Witness B's conduct was "characteristic of the service as a whole".

The court's final ruling forced the Foreign Office to publish a seven-paragraph summary of 42 classified CIA documents that were handed to MI5 before Witness B travelled to Pakistan to interrogate Mohamed. These show that MI5 was aware that Mohamed was being continuously deprived of sleep, threatened with rendition and subjected to previous interrogations that were causing him "significant mental stress and suffering". If administered in the UK, the summary says, it would clearly be in breach of undertakings about interrogation techniques made by the British government in 1972.

The three judges referred to a recent case in a US court where the judge found Mohamed's claims about how he was tortured to be truthful. This vindicated his assertion 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 USA authorities".
This has been a tawdry affair from start to finish. First, we have Miliband claiming that evidence of British complicity in US torture ought to be suppressed to keep intelligence lines open between both Britain and the United States, and now we have the governments lawyers interfering in an attempt to stop judges rulings from being too harsh about their involvement in the torture of British citizens.

The Foreign Office claimed tonight that the criticisms in the draft judgment had been "unsubstantiated", and denied that Sumption's approach to the court had been intended to suppress criticism of MI5. Nevertheless, the court is to convene tomorrow to reconsider whether to publish all or parts of the 21-line paragraph from the draft judgment in which the criticisms appear.

The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, wrote to the court after the Sumption letter came to light on Monday night. He said today: "It is good news that – after a challenge from the Guardian and other news organisations – the courts have finally ordered the government to reveal evidence of MI5 complicity in torture. This is a watershed in open justice in an area in which it is notoriously difficult to shine a light. But it was extremely disturbing that the government's lawyers made a successful last-ditch attempt to get the master of the rolls to rewrite his judgment."

There is not a single member of either the British of the American governments who can hold their heads high after this shameful episode. Both the Gordon Brown government and the government of Barack Obama have worked as hard as they could to suppress this information.

The information reveals that:

"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."

We knew what the Americans were doing. And we participated in what they were doing. And now, both the British and the new American government have done all in their powers to stop this information from ever becoming public.

I find that shameful.


What now for MI5? After their denials have been utterly discredited?

For years the security and intelligence agencies, backed up by the government, have insisted that they have no truck with torture. Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, stated last October: "I can say quite clearly that the security service does not torture people, nor do we collude in torture or solicit others to torture people on our behalf."

In today's judgment, however, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, flatly contradicted these assertions.

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