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The Guardian/UK

Bowing to US's 'Naked Political Power'

Suppressing evidence of torture, as the US is asking Britain to do in the Binyam Mohamed case, is a criminal offence

Clive Stafford Smith

Over the weekend, the government has identified another way to embarrass itself.

Karen Steyn is the barrister representing David Miliband, who has been arguing that we must suppress evidence of torture in the case of Binyam Mohamed. On Saturday, the high court judges sent the foreign secretary a transcript of their interrogation of Steyn for him to confirm in writing whether he really means what she says.

The issue at stake is whether the government really wants to suppress seven paragraphs that apparently include American admissions that they tortured Mohamed. First, Steyn confirmed that the material that she wanted suppressed had no intelligence value -- it did not "conceivably identify anything that is of a national security interest", it simply identified criminal acts of torture.

Second, Steyn confirmed that the US had "threatened" the UK with sanctions if the material was released, though she did not like the word: "It is entirely right," she said, "there has been that explicit statement of consequences."

Those inevitable consequences are that the US will withhold intelligence information. Lord Justice Thomas explained that this "means, in the vernacular, [an increased] risk to the men, women and children of this country from terrorist attack".

"No doubt someone is going to ask Mrs Clinton or the CIA 'did you really mean that if a few paragraphs of no value at all to intelligence was made public you would actually take steps to reduce intelligence sharing with a real risk to the lives of the ordinary man and women of the United Kingdom'," Lord Justice Thomas explained with a degree of incredulity. "The answer they would have to give is..."

"Yes," said Steyn.

The judges were very clear that such a threat was not based in law. "I mean, it is an exercise of naked political power," Lord Justice Thomas said, feeling the need to emphasise his point. "That is not constitutional, it is the use of naked political power."

This transcript is being sent to Miliband for him to tell us all whether this is really what he means, and what he intends to do about it.

So we are clear, let me translate into the vernacular what we will know if Miliband bows to these threats. Under British law it is a criminal offence to suppress evidence of torture. The US has told Britain that it must commit this crime, and help cover up American crimes, or the US will ensure that innocent British citizens are more likely to die in a terrorist attack. The British government is without moral principle and has been cowed by these illegal American threats.

There clearly comes a time when even politicians have to show a little moral fibre. Miliband must understand that there are "consequences" when we choose to cover up evidence of torture as well: those consequences will probably be the election of a new government.

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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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