Obama White House bullies Britain on Gitmo torture case?

The US has threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with the UK if evidence is made public of the torture of a British resident at Guantánamo Bay, Britain’s High Court asserted in a ruling Feb. 4. Details in the case must remain secret, judges ruled—explicitly citing US threats. Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones said lawyers for the Foreign Secretary David Miliband had told them that the threat by the US still applied under President Barack Obama‘s administration. While noting that failure to release the evidence is contrary to the rule of law, the judges said it must remain secret or “the public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk.”

The disclosure that Washington threatened to re-evaluate sharing intelligence with the UK came just a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavished praise on the “special relationship” between the two powers.

Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was held at Gitmo, has launched a High Court challenge in London seeking documents detailing his treatment to be made public. But the two High Court judges said that Miliband had warned them that releasing the evidence could lead to Washington “revaluating” its intelligence sharing, with the “real risk that it would reduce the intelligence provided.” The ruling disclosed that the secret documents at the center of the case “give rise to an arguable case of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” against Mohamed.

The judges wrote: “It was and remains (so far as we are aware) the judgement of the Foreign Secretary that the United States government might carry out that threat and this would seriously prejudice the national security of the United Kingdom.” They added: “We have…been informed by counsel for the foreign secretary that the position has not changed. Our current understanding is therefore that the position remains the same even after the making of executive orders by President Obama on January 22nd 2009.”

Mohamed, an Ethiopian national with British residency, has been at Guantánamo for the last five years. He was first arrested over a visa violation while traveling in Pakistan in 2002 before being “renditioned” to Morocco in a CIA plane and held there for 18 months before being turned back over to the US and transfered to Gitmo in 2004.

Downing Street issued a statement in response to the High Court ruling tat appeared to contradict the Foreign Office position, with a spokesman saying they were “not aware” of any threats from the US government. (London Times, Politics.co.uk, Feb. 4)

See our last posts on Gitmo and the UK.

  1. Boeing on trial in Binyam Mohamed case
    From the NY Times, Feb. 6:

    Claims of Torture Abroad Face Test Monday in Court
    A case to be heard in San Francisco on Monday could provide an early look at whether President Obama will fully break with the previous administration on questions of government secrecy concerning the transfer of terrorism suspects to countries where they may face torture.

    The hearing grows out of a lawsuit filed on behalf of an Ethiopian native, Binyam Mohamed, and four other detainees against a subsidiary of the Boeing Company. The suit maintains that the subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, helped arrange rendition flights that took the detainees to nations where, they say, they were tortured.

    The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in the Federal District Court in San Francisco in May 2007. It was dismissed last February after the Bush administration asserted the “state secrets privilege,” claiming that the disclosure of information in the case could damage national security.

    In the appeal, to be heard Monday by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the civil liberties union argues that the government has engaged in an inappropriate blanket use of the privilege and that the case should be allowed to proceed.

    “Every single torture case filed against a U.S. official has been thrown out without any adjudication of law or facts” because of the early and broad use of the state secrets privilege, said Ben Wizner, an A.C.L.U. lawyer.