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Guantánamo Torture: UK Wants Claims of Complicity to be Heard in Secret
Seven claimants go to high court to fight legal move • Disclosure would harm intelligence links, says FO
The government wants allegations that it was complicit in the torture by the US of Britons held as terrorism suspects to be heard in secret.
In documents seen by the Guardian, lawyers for the government argue it must be allowed to present evidence to the high court with the public excluded, otherwise Britain's relations with other countries and its national security could be damaged. The government also wants its evidence kept secret from defence lawyers.
Lawyers for seven men who are now all back in the UK after the US released them without charge will tomorrow go to the high court in London to fight the government's attempt, which they say is designed to cover the embarrassment of ministers and the security services.
The attempt to have unprecedented secret hearings comes as part of a case brought by four British residents and three UK citizens who were held in Guantánamo Bay. They are suing and allege the government and the security services were complicit in their rendition, unlawful detention and torture.
In documents presented as part of its case, the government has admitted:
- One Briton, Martin Mubanga, was repeatedly interviewed by security service officers while "restrained with plastic leg cuffs";
- That the British security services provided questions to be put to the detainees by others during interrogation sessions. The detainees maintain the questioning followed ill-treatment.
The case is being brought against the domestic security service, MI5, the foreign intelligence service, MI6, the home and foreign offices and the attorney general.
The seven men bringing the lawsuit include Binyam Mohamed, who says he was tortured with the knowledge of the British security and intelligence agencies. In a separate but parallel case, the high court is locked in a fierce row with David Miliband, the foreign secretary, over his refusal to disclose CIA information.
Earlier this month, two senior judges dismissed the foreign secretary's claims that disclosing evidence of unlawful treatment would harm national security and threaten the UK's vital intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US. Miliband is appealing against the ruling.
In the high court, lawyers acting for the seven will urge Mr Justice Silber to reject MI5 and MI6 arguments that they should be able to rely on secret "closed evidence" to make their case.
The government filed a witness statement from the Treasury solicitor David Mackie outlining its defence. In it he explains the damage ministers and their lawyers believe could be caused if information held by the security services is publicly released. Mackie says in his witness statement that informants and the agencies methods would be jeopardised: "Disclosure of the information ... would be likely to assist those whose purpose is to injure the security of the UK and whose actions in the past have shown that they are willing to kill innocent civilians."
Mackie then details the damage the government believes could be caused if material held by the Foreign Office is disclosed: "The disclosure of some of the information held by the FCO could prejudice the United Kingdom's bilateral relationships. The effective conduct of international relations depends on maintaining trust and confidence between governments."
In its defence to Mubanga's claim, the government admits that the security services provide questions to be put by others during interrogation.
Government lawyers, in documents seen by the Guardian, said: "The security service interviewed a number of these detainees and provided questions to be put to detainees who were being interviewed by others. The security service undertook this role because, as the UK agency with the most experience of running intelligence-led counter-terrorist investigations in the UK, it was best placed to understand and utilise the information received about threats against the UK, or involving British nationals. At times these interviews were facilitated by SIS officers and on occasions SIS officers conducted interviews themselves."
The documents show British intelligence officers interrogated Mubanga in Guantánamo at least five times while he was held in leg cuffs: "It is admitted that during all security service interviews at Guantánamo Bay, Mr Mubanga was restrained with plastic leg cuffs."
The government denies, saying "it would have been obvious", that Mubanga "was malnourished or in great distress", as his lawyers suggest, and says that while in US detention he received welfare visits from the Foreign Office.
Louise Christian, a lawyer who represents Mubanga, said: "We believe the government is not trying to protect national security but trying to protect itself from embarrassment and from being sued for complicity in torture."
Sapna Malik, a solicitor acting for Mohamed said: "That the government is seeking to introduce such unconstitutional and unfair measures by the back door only serves to further raise suspicions about what they are trying to hide."
Gareth Peirce, who is acting for five of the seven claimants, including Moazzam Begg, who alleges he was repeatedly tortured by the US, said: "The claimants' response to the defendants' application for the introduction of closed procedures is one of principle - an absolute and resounding 'No, not in our courts'."