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A couple of months ago, the British High Court ruled that a document containing information on the torture of Binyam Mohamed should be disclosed in full. The original document supposedly contains seven paragraphs which describe the brutal methods used to interrogate Mohamed, including waterboarding and slicing his genitals with a scalpel.
David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary who has been resisting the High Court’s efforts to release the document, now describes the decision as irresponsible.
David Miliband accused the two senior judges of irresponsibly “charging in” to a diplomatically sensitive area over what happened to former terror detainee Binyam Mohamed while held by the Americans in Pakistan.
Jonathan Sumption QC, appearing for the Foreign Secretary, told the Court of Appeal the judges’ stance was “both, in many respects, unnecessary and profoundly damaging to the interests of this country.”
Mr Sumption added: “I would go so far as to say their views were irresponsible.”
To put this in context, Miliband has argued that disclosure of Mohamed’s torture while in captivity in Pakistan would harm British national security because the U.S. Government allegedly threatened to reduce intelligence-sharing with the British if the seven paragraphs were made public. The Foreign Secretary claimed that the Bush Administration (and subsequently, the Obama Administration) would re-evaluate its intelligence-sharing operation with Britain if it feared that British judges would declassify CIA intelligence without the express permission of U.S. officials. For its part, the Obama Administration praised the U.K. Government last February when it previously concealed the information of Mohamed’s torture. In addition, the U.S. State Department denounced the High Court’s reversal of opinion, stating that confidentiality of such sensitive information was central to intelligence-sharing.
However, The High Court rejected the Foreign Secretary’s rationale, asserting that there was insufficient evidence that the U.S. would reduce its intelligence-sharing relationship with the U.K. The judges also reiterated that the information in the previously redacted seven paragraphs needed to be placed into the public domain because evidence relevant to the allegations of Mohamed’s torture trumped any potential political embarrassment. Here are a couple of excerpts from the High Court’s ruling:
“The suppression of reports of wrongdoing by officials in circumstances which cannot in any way affect national security is inimical to the rule of law.”
“A vital public interest requires … that a summary of the most important evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in wrongdoing be placed in the public domain … Championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, is the cornerstone of democracy.”
It’s interesting that Miliband would decry the judges’ decision to disclose the description of a prisoner’s torture and uphold the rule of law as an “irresponsible” decision that could jeopardize intelligence-sharing operations with the U.S. and thus weaken the ability of the British Government to combat terrorism. A few days before President Obama’s inauguration, Miliband himself argued that in order to most effectively combat terrorism, “We must up hold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties both at home and abroad.” He also added that “Democracies must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it.”
In a related note, this is not the first time that the current British Foreign Secretary has blasted the disclosure of important documents. In February of 2008, following a request filed under Freedom of Information laws, Miliband was forced to publicize a dossier from 2002 which claimed that Saddam Hussein had acquired uranium and had the necessary equipment to produce chemical and biological weapons. The document was originally written by John Williams, who was serving as the Foreign Office Press Chief at the time. Here’s what the AP reported at the bottom of the article describing the release of the dossier:
Miliband criticized the decision to order the release of the Williams document, saying officials should be free to draft policy papers without fears they could be made public.
Miliband’s response to the publication of the dossier is quite revealing. According to the British Foreign Secretary, public officials should be allowed to write whatever they want and should not be held to account for their words, regardless of the veracity of their claims and the consequences that follow. He defends against the disclosure of a document which speciously cooked up the invisible threat of Saddam’s WMDs, casually dismissing it as a “policy paper” that deserves no public scrutiny — as though it were a simple creative writing exercise drafted by a student in an English class, and not a document written by the former head of communications for the British Government which could have been used by British officials to justify the Iraq War.
Therefore, it’s not at all surprising for me to read that Miliband would denounce the release of information pertaining to Binyam Mohamed’s torture as “irresponsible.” This is, after all, the same man who claimed that “The fundamental question at issue in this judgment is not the mistreatment allegations made by Binyam Mohamed, nor is it about the content of the intelligence reports.” Miliband has it entirely wrong. The torture of Mohamed at the hands of the CIA is at the fundamental heart of the case. What is truly irresponsible is the Foreign Secretary’s repeated attempts to block the release of such vital information, an act of stonewalling which illustrates perfectly how government officials will take whatever measures necessary to cover up evidence of war crimes. As the British author and lecturer Dr. Simon Reid-Henry wrote last May:
The rise of the doctrine of national security and the consolidation of a peculiarly British paternalistic streak that has long buttressed the operation of a secretive side to the state have more than a little to do with it. Indeed, the latter deep-rooted faith in the rightness of the government of power’s cause, and the condescension with which attempts to force oversight have historically been treated, may help, in particular, to explain the surprising air of diffidence ministers project in relation to the claims of government complicity in torture.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos