Published on
The Guardian/UK

Without Truth About Torture, No Reconciliation

No matter how you dress it up, the question on the table is whether the Obama administration should continue to cover-up evidence of the criminal offence of torture, committed by US personnel. It is a truly remarkable notion that evidence of crimes should be suppressed because it might provoke anger around the world. Try telling the victim of child abuse that it would be better if we all hushed the facts up, and let the paedophile go free, because news of what happened might spark outrage among the readers of the Sun - who, in turn, might go on a vigilante raid against some innocent paediatrician.

Yet this is basically the argument advanced by Michael Tomasky today. Tomasky is probably correct when he suggests that the photographs of prisoners being abused by American soldiers will inflame passions. It is possible that this might even put entirely innocent Americans in danger. I carry an American passport, and I might be the victim. I certainly hope none of this happens. But can these fears really justify the continued cover-up?

I got off a plane this morning from Washington DC where - sadly - President Obama continues to suppress the evidence of the torture committed against British resident Binyam Mohamed. Binyam is suffering badly these days, the bitter consequences of the years of torture he endured in American custody, in Pakistan, in Morocco, in the dark prison in Kabul, and in Guantánamo Bay. So far, the United States has not only refused to apologise, but will not even admit what American personnel did to him. Bizarrely (and, as the high court said, the approach of a totalitarian state rather than a democracy), the US won't even admit where Binyam was for at least two of the seven years he was held without trial.


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Binyam does not want revenge; he is not even calling for people to be locked up for what they did to him. But he does want the truth to come out, so that others can be spared his fate next time our politicians respond to a terrible crime like September 11. We cannot, as he says, expect to learn from history if we don't know what that history is.

Crimes have been committed in the recent past against Binyam and others. Unfortunately, another crime is currently being committed when politicians suppress evidence of torture. As the judges noted in Binyam's case, section 52 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 makes it an offence to assist in concealing a crime such as torture.

We might all have more sympathy for those keen to sweep all this under the carpet - to "look forward rather than backwards" as the sloganeering suggests - if the American and British officials concerned would put their hands up, admit that they did wrong, and apologise. Sad to say, this has not happened. Without truth, there is unlikely to be any reconciliation.

Clive Stafford Smith

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of defendants facing the death penalty in the USA.

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