by Andy Worthington
26 May 2009
I only ask because two weeks ago, as part of a long-running court case in which Binyam Mohamed, former Guantánamo prisoner and victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, is trying to persuade the British government to disclose evidence in its possession relating to his illegal imprisonment and torture, the government’s policy of resisting disclosure by whining that it would cause irreparable damage to the intelligence-sharing relationship between the US and the UK entered a critical new phase when a letter was delivered to the British government. Later revealed to Mohamed’s lawyers, it was marked as being the “Obama administration’s communication”, but had the names of the agency involved and the letter’s author blacked out.
The anonymous author stated that the position taken by the Obama administration was as follows: “If it is determined that [Her Majesty’s Government] is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in the future.”
The letter then referred to President Obama’s release of four Justice Department memos purporting to redefine torture and defend its use by the CIA, stating, “Neither in [those four] memoranda, nor in any statements of the administration accompanying their release, was reference made to the identity of any foreign government that might have assisted the United States. Given the declassification of the highly sensitive information contained in the memoranda, the fact that the president refrained from providing any information about foreign governments is indicative that the United States continues to preserve the secrecy of such information as critical to our national security.”
The letter continued: “The seven paragraphs at issue [a summary of the UK documents, compiled by the judges] are based upon classified information shared between our countries. Public disclosure of this information, reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the United Kingdom’s national security. Specifically, disclosure of this information may result in a constriction of the US-UK relationship, as well as UK relationships with other countries.”
The identity of the author was one of many questions that bounced around the High Court on Friday, as Mohamed’s lawyers sought once more to challenge the British government’s refusal to release the documents in its possession, but the most interesting little tidbit of information to emerge from these discussions was when one of Mohamed’s barristers referred to the author of the letter as “he,” and a ripple of knowing laughter followed from those who had been informed of the identity of the author, prompting speculation, of course, that “she” was none other than Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State.
Is it true? Will we ever know? Perhaps not, but if it is, Ms. Clinton and her team are at least more subtle than their predecessors. Last August, when this whole charade began, Stephen Mathias, a deputy to John Bellinger, wrote a much more terse — and pompous — letter from the State Department, declaring, “Ordering the disclosure of US intelligence information now would have only the marginal effects of serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence sharing relationship, and thus the national security of the United Kingdom, and of aggressive and unprecedented intervention in the apparently functioning adjudicatory processes of a longtime ally of the United Kingdom, in contravention of well established principles of international comity.”
Sadly, neither the British nor the American governments are listening to the judges — Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones — who have never agreed that disclosure would be remotely damaging, and stated, many months ago, that they “did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another State where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.”
For the most recent articles on Binyam Mohamed, see: UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco, Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy, and In the Guardian: Spies, Lies and Threats in Binyam Mohamed’s Case.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk.
Spies, Lies and Threats in Binyam Mohamed’s Case by Andy Worthington
UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco + Daily Mail Pulls Story by Andy Worthington
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The British judges have it right.