Mohamed sued the British authorities for access to 42 documents related to the abuse. But the original motive for this legal action is now academic for two reasons:
1) The US government has already provided Mohamed’s lawyers with all documents related to his treatment.
2) Guantanamo has been suspended by Obama and are unlikely ever to resume.
The remaining issue is whether the court should disclose seven redacted paragraphs contained within the 42 documents to the public. This data is related to an earlier court summary which confirmed Mohamed was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The judges statement says there was a “very considerable public interest” in publication, “particularly given the constitutional importance of the prohibition against torture”
The Foreign Office has so far refused to release the information and it’s decision cannot be overruled in a court of law. David Miliband has suppressed the dossier about the crime in spite of his personal abhorrence at the use of torture. It has been claimed that the Foreign Office is unwilling to disclose this material because the US government has threatended to cut off intelligence sharing with the UK if the information is revealed.
David Osler has articulated the normative response to the FO which is difficult to disagree with:
This stance is myopic in the extreme. Not to allow publication would be massive counterproductive and a serious error from every standpoint. Such temporary embarrassment as the disclosure would cause will be more than offset by the long-term consequences of the cover up. Miliband should order the immediate release of all relevant material.
The government’s refusal may go beyond the need to control the damage of a rift between the US and the UK. Perhaps the wider implications would make suppression of a public disclosure ethically unsupportable but logically correct.
Ken Gude makes the case for secrecy on the basis that the US government is not only protecting itself but also intelligence agencies in Pakistan. And beyond that, it is the weak and newly-elected government of Pakistan which would be at most risk if full disclosure were made, by direct implication.
Let me lay out an alternative theory for what might be motivating the US to so strongly favour secrecy. Perhaps it is not its own actions that the US is seeking to protect but those of other nation’s intelligence agencies, particularly the Pakistanis.
To put it mildly, the US is not very popular in Pakistan. If the information at issue in this case revealed Pakistani intelligence essentially doing the bidding of the US government, it could cause real political problems for an already weak Pakistani government. It may even lead to the same kind of cessation of intelligence sharing between Pakistani and American intelligence agencies as the US has threatened with Britain.
Personally I doubt Binyam Mohamed was in Pakistan in 2002 simply to savour the fine kebab houses of Lahore or to breathe the fresh Himalayan air of the Kaghan Valley. He was there to make contact with terror cells in Pakistan and there is little doubt that he posed a threat to Britain and the US.
But now we will never know because if there is an irrefutable ethical argument against the use of torture then there is also a strategic one. And it is this: Binyam Mohamed can never be prosecuted for the crimes that he is accused of because of the abuse and torture that he was put through. It is now impossible to establish whether the charges used against him were true.
The entirety of this moral failure by the Tony Blair’s premiership is still waiting to unfold and his personal culpability is still sloshing around like the proverbial turd in the swimming pool.
The British government would also be very grateful if everyone averted their eyes from this dark chapter. In that hope, they are likely to be disappointed. “There’s a lot more to be raked up,” one senior British official told me recently. The Binyam case is far from the only one involving allegations that British agents colluded in torture. We already have an official admission that the base at Diego Garcia was used for extraordinary rendition by the CIA and there is a wide suspicion that it went further than that.