Thursday, February 11, 2010

The evidence finally comes out

What sort of government would try and suppress evidence of crimes of torture on spurious grounds of "national security"? The British government, that's who. In 2002, Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan when he was attempting to return home to the UK after a visit to Afghanistan. He was beaten by Pakistani authorities, hung from straps, and threatened with execution, before being rendered by the US to Morocco. There, he was tortured by having his penis and chest cut with scalpels. The British security services were deeply involved in this process, supplying questions to the torturers and even directly questioning him after a torture session in Pakistan. As a result, at least one MI5 agent is now facing prosecution, and more will hopefully follow. But key evidence in the case has been suppressed, ostensibly on grounds of "national security".

Until today. Last night, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the evidence must be released, and that deference to the executive in matters of national security did not extend to covering up criminal wrongdoing. Along the way, they reserved special criticism for the government's position:

In damning references to claims made by Miliband and his lawyers, and stressing the importance of the media in supporting the principle of open justice, they said the case raised issues of "fundamental importance", of "democratic accountability and ultimately the rule of law itself".

Publication of the material Miliband wanted to suppress was "compelling", Judge said, since they concerned the involvement of wrongdoing by agents of the state in the "abhorrent practice of torture". The material helped to "vindicate Mr Mohamed's 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 USA authorities".

That's well-deserved - the Foreign Secretary had fabricated a US threat to withdraw intelligence cooperation in order to convince the High Court to back secrecy while his minions claimed that an independent judiciary was a threat to national security; previously, an MI5 witness had committed outright perjury. But it's the censored version. It turns out that the government's lawyer - in violation of 400 years of legal protocol - had secretly written to the judge asking him to tone down his draft judgement, which found that the security services had a culture which did not respect human rights and which supported torture, that they had deliberately lied to Parliament, and that their internal "culture of suppression" was "such as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice". Which is just another example of the lawless culture pervading the UK government.

As for the suppressed evidence itself, it shows that MI5 was aware that Mohamed was subjected to continuous sleep deprivation and threats of further disappearance by US authorities, which had caused significant mental stress and suffering. In the court's eyes, this constituted "at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities". And to keep that secret, the UK government has lied, perverted the course of justice, committed perjury, and violated basic legal norms. I am very glad they have failed.