Full Disclosure or Damage Control


by Sid (Faisal)
8th February, 2009 at 1:00 pm    

Last week a High Court ruling confirmed Binyam Mohamed was tortured whilst in the custody of the US in the full knowledge and cooperation of the Blair government. Mohamed has claimed that he was beaten, scalded and subjected to sleep deprivation,  starvation and other forms of extreme mental and physical torture. Furthermore, British authorities were aware of the extent of the torture that Mohammed was subjected to making them complicit in his unlawful detention and abuse.

Mohamed sued the British authorities for access to 42 documents related to the abuse. But the original motive for this legal action is now academic for two reasons:
1) The US government has already provided Mohamed’s lawyers with all documents related to his treatment.
2) Guantanamo has been suspended by Obama and it’s days as a functioning torture cell and kangaroo court are numbered.

The remaining issue is whether the court should disclose seven redacted paragraphs contained within the 42 documents to the public. This data is related to an earlier court summary which confirmed Mohamed was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The judges statement says there was a “very considerable public interest” in publication, “particularly given the constitutional importance of the prohibition against torture”

The Foreign Office has so far refused to release the information and it’s decision cannot be overruled in a court of law. David Miliband has suppressed the dossier about the crime in spite of his personal abhorrence at the use of torture. It has been claimed that the Foreign Office is unwilling to disclose this material because the US government has threatended to cut off intelligence sharing with the UK if the information is revealed.

David Osler has articulated the normative response to the FO which is difficult to disagree with:

This stance is myopic in the extreme. Not to allow publication would be massive counterproductive and a serious error from every standpoint. Such temporary embarrassment as the disclosure would cause will be more than offset by the long-term consequences of the cover up. Miliband should order the immediate release of all relevant material.

The government’s refusal to publicly disclose the Binyam dossier is possibly dependent on more than just damage control of a rift between the US and the UK.

This article in a Pakistani daily (by Ken Gude) makes the case for secrecy on the basis that the US government is not only protecting itself but also intelligence agencies in Pakistan. And beyond that, it is the weak and newly-elected government of Pakistan which would be at most risk if  full disclosure were made, by direct implication.

Let me lay out an alternative theory for what might be motivating the US to so strongly favour secrecy. Perhaps it is not its own actions that the US is seeking to protect but those of other nation’s intelligence agencies, particularly the Pakistanis.

To put it mildly, the US is not very popular in Pakistan. If the information at issue in this case revealed Pakistani intelligence essentially doing the bidding of the US government, it could cause real political problems for an already weak Pakistani government. It may even lead to the same kind of cessation of intelligence sharing between Pakistani and American intelligence agencies as the US has threatened with Britain.

Personally I doubt Binyam Mohamed was in Pakistan in 2002 simply to savour the fine kebab houses of Lahore or to breathe the fresh Himalayan air of the Kaghan Valley. He was there to make contact with terror cells in Pakistan and there is little doubt that he posed a threat to Britain and the US.

But now we will never know because if there is an irrefutable ethical argument against the use of torture then there is also a strategic one. And it is this: Binyam Mohamed can never be prosecuted for the crimes that he is accused of because of the abuse and torture that he was put through. It is now impossible to establish whether the charges used against him were true.

The full extent of this moral failure of Tony Blair’s premiership is still to unravel but his personal culpability is sloshing around like the proverbial turd in the swimming pool.

The British government would also be very grateful if everyone averted their eyes from this dark chapter. In that hope, they are likely to be disappointed. “There’s a lot more to be raked up,” one senior British official told me recently. The Binyam case is far from the only one involving allegations that British agents colluded in torture. We already have an official admission that the base at Diego Garcia was used for extraordinary rendition by the CIA and there is a wide suspicion that it went further than that.


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Filed in: Terrorism






4 Comments below   |  

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  1. kobial — on 8th February, 2009 at 7:42 pm  

    Good one, Sid.

    Poor show – I expected better from David Miliband.

  2. Niels C — on 9th February, 2009 at 12:18 pm  

    It’s really a joke; first you move to Britain and ask for asylum; then you engage in political activities which intentions are very doubtfull; And then you sue.
    I agree with Ron Liddle in the Times
    ‘And also that Mohamed is an unlovely cove who we were naïve to have allowed to stay in this country in the first place. Right now, apparently, he is feeling very “frail”. Never mind’
    How come that persons who engage in doubtfull political activities, aren’t ready to accept that there’s risk doing this?
    Torture is wrong, but the worst thing about torture is that we have to lend ears to people like Mohamed.

  3. Sid — on 9th February, 2009 at 12:48 pm  


    And then you sue.
    I agree with Ron Liddle in the Times
    ‘And also that Mohamed is an unlovely cove who we were naïve to have allowed to stay in this country in the first place. Right now, apparently, he is feeling very “frail”. Never mind’

    I suspect that if Rod Liddle was subjected to a fraction of the physical and mental torture that those interned at Guantanamo have been put through, we’d all be rewarded with a gaggle of first-person articles in the Daily Mail about his experiences as a “torture survivor” and a raft of court cases to fund his top-flight journalist lifestyle. Just ask his ex-wife.

  4. Jai — on 9th February, 2009 at 12:57 pm  

    Shami C was pretty badass on Question Time last Thursday night during the discussion about this issue, if anyone here saw that. She’s got a lot of guts. Handled it really well, very forcefully and (considering she had to react quickly and “think on the spot”) extremely eloquently. She didn’t allow herself to be patronised into silence either.

    Very brave woman.

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