Guantánamo Torture: UK Wants Claims of Complicity to be Heard in Secret

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The Guardian/UK

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

by
Vikram Dodd and Richard Norton-Taylor

Former Guantanamo detainees Martin Mubanga, left, and Moazzam Begg. (Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

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'."

 

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