Binyam Mohamed: the story so far

Anyone who’s kept up with every twist and turn of the Binyam Mohamed saga probably needs to get out more, but most people are now familiar with the broad thrust.

A man is picked up in Pakistan during the US “war on terror”. Like scores – probably hundreds – of others, he was mistreated in detention in Pakistan, taken by the CIA to Morocco, horribly tortured there and then – via Afghanistan – taken to Guantánamo, where he remained for four and half years. Finally, after this nightmare, he was released without charge last year and flown back to Britain – almost seven years after he’d himself tried to fly to Britain from Karachi airport.

That is just part one. Part two of this tangled tale is the legal battle to get hold of documents that went between the CIA and MI5 concerning his torture, questions for his interrogation/torture sessions – and the almost unprecedented UK government rearguard action of stonewalling. Again and again and again.

Today’s development is really just a minor addition to this story. In fact just one paragraph of a long chapter. Literally. Paragraph 168 of the Court of Appeals’ Lord Neuberger’s judgment from earlier this month was – by the government at least – considered so explosive that they had their lawyer running around London to prevent its publication. Unsuccessfully, as it turns out, because today it’s been published.  Here’s what it says:

Fourthly, it is also germane that the SyS were making it clear in March 2005, through a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee that “they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services’ general ethics, methodology and training” (paragraph 9 of the first judgment), indeed they “denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government” (paragraph 44(ii) of the fourth judgment). Yet that does not seem to be true: as the evidence in this case showed, at least some SyS officials appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques, and indeed when it comes to frankness about the UK’s involvement with the mistreatment of Mr Mohammed* by US officials. I have in mind in particular witness B, but it appears likely that there were others. The good faith of the Foreign Secretary is not in question, but he prepared the certificates partly, possibly largely, on the basis of information and advice provided by SyS personnel. Regrettably, but inevitably, this must raise the question whether any statement in the certificates on an issue concerning such mistreatment can be relied on, especially when the issue is whether contemporaneous communications to the SyS about such mistreatment should be revealed publicly. Not only is there an obvious reason for distrusting any UK Government assurance, based on SyS advice and information, because of previous “form”, but the Foreign Office and the SyS have an interest in the suppression of such information.

(*Pity Lord Neuberger couldn’t have checked the spelling, by the way). So, strip away the legalese, and you’re left with a senior judge saying that the security service (“SyS”) can’t be trusted to tell the truth about their involvement in handling detainees and that they have a poor record on human rights. That surely suggests we need an independent inquiry into the way that the intelligence services – and their political masters – have behaved throughout this torrid “war on terror” period.

Meanwhile, today’s focus is on Binyam Mohamed but let’s not forget that he’s the “lucky” one in the sense that at least he’s out of GITMO. Another UK resident, Shaker Aamer, is still there – after eight years. As Kate Allen notes on the Guardian letters page today, the irony of the US “glass cube” embassy’s relocation to Battersea is that 1,000 US embassy employees will from 2016 be located close to where Shaker Aamer lives.

Except he’s still imprisoned without charge or trial 4,600 miles away in Cuba …

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