UK loses appeal to conceal Binyam Mohamed torture

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2007 file photo of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband meeting then-US Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice.
Image: US State Department.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband today lost an appeal to conceal details of the "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of UK resident Binyam Mohamed after being stopped in Pakistan, then detained and subjected to extraordinary rendition at the behest of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.

The 31-year-old Ethiopian-born man was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 due to issues with his visa. He was then handed over to American authorities who covertly transported him to Morocco for interrogation on a suspicion that he received training on the handling of munitions from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. His final destination, after two years in Morocco, was Guantánamo Bay; from 2004 until 2009 he was held in the US-run detention centre in Cuba. He was released last February without any charges being brought against him.

Today's ruling, by the the Court of Appeal's three most senior judges, ordered previously redacted paragraphs detailing Binyam's treatment in US-managed captivity made public. The seven previously withheld paragraphs appear in a report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's website. They had purportedly been kept secret over fears publication would jeopardise intelligence sharing between the US and UK. A court ruling in August 2008 did ensure the redacted details were available to Binyam's legal team; however, this is their first release to a wider public.

Binyam had, prior to May 2001, been subjected to a succession of interviews, "as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer." During this interrogation, Binyam Mohamed "had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed [...] 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 [...] the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews".

His fears of being removed from United States custody and 'disappearing' were played upon [...] the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews

—UK Foreign Office report

The effects of his treatment were apparently quite detrimental; "[i]t 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 interviews were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering."

In February last year, Miliband denied that the United States threatened to reduce or cease terrorism-related intelligence sharing, but fought to keep the details released today secret; arguing publication would, "cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country."

Should people be prosecuted for colluding in torture? If so, who?

The release of information known in 2001 implies that Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis misled the BBC's Today programme when, in August last year, he stated that, "[w]e neither engage in, collude with or condone torture." The interview by Sarah Montague, with Lewis in Damascus, Syria, saw the minister challenged on the basis that the UK might "turn a blind eye" to torture. Lewis responded that, "we always make it clear that torture is unacceptable and abhorrent"; however, this was qualified, "in a modern world you cannot counter terrorism by acting in isolation; we have to work on a global basis with many other countries. And it’s true that some of those countries don’t apply the same rules and the same standards as the United Kingdom".

Lewis denied that the UK was "complicit" in torture, although his responses in the interview described information such as that released today as "very serious allegations made against some of the intelligence services in some countries that we have to co-operate with in terms of protecting the security and the national interest of this country."