Thursday, February 05, 2009

Covering up torture

Binyam Mohamed is a UK resident currently detained in the US gulag in Guantanamo Bay. In 2002 he was arrested in Pakistan, beaten, threatened with execution, then disappeared and rendered to Morocco by the CIA, where he was systematically tortured by having his chest and genitals sliced with a scalpel. In August, a UK court found that MI5 had colluded in and facilitated that torture. But today, they ruled that they cannot make the evidence public because the US is threatening to cut off intelligence cooperation if it does so:

In a joint judgment involving terror suspect Binyam Mohamed, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said: "In the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States it was in our view difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported, as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.

"Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials ... relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.

"We had no reason ... to anticipate there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States Government that it would reconsider its intelligence sharing relationship, when all the considerations in relation to open justice pointed to us providing a limited but important summary of the reports."

In another part of the ruling, the judges said they had been informed by lawyers for Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the threat to withdraw co-operation remained even under President Barack Obama's new administration.

The judges are right: this is information which should be released in order to promote the rule of law and the accountability of democratically elected governments for their misdeeds. For the US to threaten to withdraw cooperation if they do so is monstrous; for the UK to collude in that coverup is cowardly and makes them complicit. But then, they'll collude in torture; it seems entirely natural for them to also collude in covering it up. The only way to end the collusion is to de-elect the government which does it. But sadly, there's no sign that the alternative would do things any differently...