British government uses ‘Alice in Wonderland’ argument to cover up torture of Binyam Mohamed

The Foreign Secretary is attempting to suppress descriptions of torture methods used on Binyam Mohamed, citing US disapproval — despite the fact that the methods have already been published by the Obama Administration.

In their sixth judgment, High Court judges were scathing about the Foreign Secretary’s view that publishing torture methods poses a risk to national security. The judges make it clear that the Government has cynically abused the Public Interest Immunity system, using it to hide embarrassing information from the public.

Absurdly enough, the Foreign Secretary is even claiming Public Interest Immunity to suppress a verbatim quote from the CIA’s infamous ‘torture memos’ released by President Obama on 16 April 2009.

The judges have also revealed that Binyam was interrogated using methods consistent with the torture techniques described in the torture memos. We can therefore assume that reading the details of Abu Zubaydah’s torture gives us in insight into Binyam’s suffering. The techniques are:

“(1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard.”

Background to the case (full case history briefing is here)

In its fourth judgment, the Divisional Court held that given the threats as to security and intelligence co-operation with the UK made by the US, it would not order publication of seven paragraphs summarising BM’s treatment whilst detained in Pakistan.

In its fifth judgment, the Divisional Court re-opened its fourth judgment and ordered that the seven paragraphs should be restored to its first judgment. On the evidence available to the Court, the alleged threat to national security was not a genuine or serious one. At the request of the Foreign Secretary and the security and intelligence services, four paragraphs of the Court’s reasoning in its fifth judgment were redacted, supposedly to protect national security.

What has been revealed in today’s sixth (and revised fifth) judgment?

The Court has revealed further, previously secret, information about the content of the famous seven paragraphs describing the mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed by the CIA in Pakistan.

The judges reveal that what was done to BM was analogous to the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ described in the torture memos.

The question is, why is the US and the Foreign Secretary still resisting disclosure of information that is, in essence, already in the public domain? The only plausible reason is the potential for embarrassment.

Key paragraphs restored in the revised fifth judgment

The Court has redrafted its fifth judgment so as to address the alleged national security issues whilst placing additional material in the public domain about BM’s ill treatment. The key changes are:

Part of paragraph 38(iv) remains redacted. The new gist statement provided by the Court states that “the redacted passage is a verbatim quotation from the (torture memos) made public on 16 April 2009 illustrating the detail of what is set out in the (torture memos)”.

Paragraph 74(ii): The new gist statement notes that “the redacted subparagraph explains that what is in the seven paragraphs redacted from our first judgment is akin to what is already public”.

Paragraph 81: The new gist statement seems to say that there is a close relationship between the redacted paragraphs and the content of the torture memos, and that in these circumstances it is impossible to believe that President Obama would in fact cut intelligence sharing if the 7 paragraphs were published.

Paragraph 79(vi) Redaction has been restored. This passage is simply a comment by the Court that the 7 redacted paragraphs do not contain any information about foreign states and the treatment described in the paragraphs are consistent with the approved ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

Further appeals

The Foreign Secretary is appealing the fifth and sixth judgments. The appeal has been expedited and will be heard by the Court of Appeal (Lord Judge CJ, Lord Neuberger MR and May LJ) on 14, 15 and 16 December.

Clare Algar, Executive Director of Reprieve, said:

“It is truly bizarre that much of the information that the Foreign Secretary is seeking to redact from these judgments is already in the public domain. The government’s obsession with secrecy is starting to feel like a Hall of Mirrors. Nobody believes that disclosure will upset the US when the very same information has already been disclosed by the Obama Administration.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said:

“It is extraordinary that the British government seeks to suppress that which the Obama Administration has already made public. The British public is entitled to ask, in light of today’s ruling, which of the ten techniques identified in the notorious torture memo was used against Binyam Mohamed.”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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