The Seven Paragraphs that Shook US-UK Ties

A British court has ordered the publication of previously secret information that appears to reveal the UK government’s complicity with the U.S. in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was imprisoned by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The decision by the English Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier High Court ruling that ordered the release of seven paragraphs that the British government had sought to suppress because the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama "explicitly threatened that publishing the information would harm the intelligence-sharing relationship between the two nations." 

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband argued that the publication of those seven paragraphs would endanger Britain’s national security. 

But, as the Court of Appeals noted in their decision, the information at issue had already been placed in the public domain through a U.S. court decision in November 2009. 

In that case the judge, after reviewing extensive evidence of Mohamed’s allegations of torture, noted that the government did "not challenge or deny the accuracy of Binyam Mohamed’s story of brutal treatment." 

Jonathan Evans, director general of the British intelligence service MI5, denied his staff had withheld documents relating to Mohamed from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) or sought to cover up its involvement in the torture of detainees. 

Evans said claims by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, that there was a "culture of suppression" within the service were "the precise opposite of the truth." 

In an article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, Evans wrote that MI5 was trying to protect the country from "enemies" who would use "all the tools at their disposal" – including propaganda – to attack. 

"We will do all that we can to keep the country safe from terrorist attack. We will use all the powers available to U.S. under the law," he wrote. 

MI5 told the ISC Mohamed was interrogated "in line with the service’s guidance to staff on contact with detainees". 

However, a seven-paragraph summary released by the appeal court shows that the CIA told MI5 Mohamed had been subjected to "continuous sleep deprivation … threats and inducements". 

While Mohamed’s case has wound its way through the English courts, he has also sought justice in U.S. courts as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against Jeppesen DataPlan, a Boeing subsidiary. 

That lawsuit, Mohamed v. Jeppesen, charges that Jeppesen knowingly participated in the CIA’s forced disappearance and torture of Mohamed and four other men through the provision of critical flight planning and logistical support services to the aircraft and crews used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in its "extraordinary rendition" program. 

The Obama administration has sought to dismiss the Jeppesen case at the very outset by invoking the "state secrets privilege", claiming that allowing this case to proceed will endanger national security. Last December, the case was reheard by a panel of eleven judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their decision is pending. 

Asked by IPS about the UK court’s decision to release the seven-paragraph document, ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner said, "Never before have so many high-level officials worked so hard to suppress what everyone already knew. Think about it: Here we have two heads of government, two secretaries of state, the chiefs of two intelligence services, and many others at the highest levels of government, all conspiring to hide information that was in plain view." 

"The only remarkable thing about the released document is how unremarkable it is," he added. 

The document, he told IPS, "has nothing to do with protecting national security. It has only to do with preventing legal accountability for torture. But the wall of impunity is crumbling." 

Wizner told IPS the ACLU would file a new motion to call the attention of the Ninth Circuit judges to the British decision. 

He said he "doesn’t see how the U.S. government can invoke the state secrets privilege to keep the Jeppesen case from coming to court when all of the so-called state secrets are now in the public domain." 

Binyam Mohamed was under the control or in the custody of U.S. authorities for seven years before his release back to his home in England in February last year. 

The released paragraphs confirm Binyam’s torture, referring to his sleep deprivation, the threat to "disappear" him, the fact that "the interviews were having a marked effect on him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering" and the fact that "the reports provided to the SyS made clear to anyone reading them that BM was subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment." 

U.S. officials played down claims that the appeal court’s disclosure of CIA information passed to MI5 would damage intelligence-sharing with Britain, as fresh doubts emerged about the accuracy of information given to MPs. 

But Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said the U.S. was "deeply disappointed" in the court judgment. "We shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations," he added. 

Another White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the court decision would not provoke a broad review of intelligence liaison between Britain and the U.S. because the need for close co-operation was greater than ever. 

The UK government has indicated that it will not appeal the judgment. 

Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve, said: "Our government went to enormous lengths to prevent the British public from seeing this tiny fraction of Binyam’s story. They still refuse to admit that he was abused. Today’s decision is very welcome, but the paragraphs revealed are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to British complicity in torture – much more is to come." 

The redacted paragraphs: 

"It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM (Binyam Mohamed) had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed. 

"It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. 

"His fears of being removed from United States custody and ‘disappearing’ were played upon. 

"It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews 

"It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the inter views were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering. 

"We regret to have to conclude that the reports provided to the SyS made clear to anyone reading them that BM (Binyam Mohamed) was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment. 

"The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for U.S. to categorize the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities."

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: William Fisher

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.