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Binyam Mohamed ruling a 'tactical retreat'

By Penny Ayres

Updated on 10 February 2010

As the Foreign Secretary loses his bid to stop the release of secret information relating to the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith tells Channel 4 News the Foreign Office publication of seven paragraphs relating to the case is only a "tactical retreat".

Binyam Mohamed who was held at Guantanamo Bay. (Credit: Reprieve)

The publication of the paragraphs follows a court of appeal ruling - the latest judgement in the former Guantanamo Bay detainee's legal battle to get information about his treatment released by the US and UK governments.

"The publication of the infamous "seven paragraphs" on the FCO website today is an extraordinary illustration of the lengths to which the government has gone to hide evidence of torture," he said.

"Of course, ugly though it is, the material forming the basis for the seven paragraphs is relatively anodyne, comprising only the early stages of Mr Mohamed’s abuse in Pakistan.

"Far, far more incriminating material remains hidden, covering his rendition to Morocco and the 18 months when he was tortured with a razor blade to the genitals."

Mr Stafford Smith, who is also director of the charity Reprieve, drew attention to a recent case in the US which the court of appeal quoted in its judgement, which outlined the torture suffered by the former detainee for two year.

"During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured.  His genitals were mutilated," the judgement quotes. "He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another.

"Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.

"The [US] Government does not dispute this evidence."

"This is what the US courts have said – obviously far more significant than what the UK government tried to cover up," Mr Stafford Smith said. 
"The Intelligence & Security Committee’s 2005 report makes clear that the British government instructed its agents that if they witnessed abuse of prisoners they had no duty to do anything about it.

"We know that the UK had an informant in Morocco when Mr Mohamed was being tortured with a razor blade; we know that a British intelligence agent went out to Morocco twice while the razor blading was going on. We know that the British continued to send questions to be used by his abusers throughout his torture.

"What the British media and the British public don’t yet know is the degree to which British agents – sanctioned by the British government – were fully aware of what was happening.

"In other words, there is far worse to come, and the British government has today only made a tactical retreat."

Releasing the seven paragraphs today, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the government accepted the decision to publish the paragraphs "in light of disclosures in the US court".

"At the heart of this case was the principle that if a country shares intelligence with another, that country must agree before its intelligence is released," Mr Miliband said, insisting that the judgement today upholds the "control principle".

"The court has today ordered the publication of the seven paragraphs because in its view their substance had been put into the public domain  by a decision of a US court in another case. Without that disclosure, it is clear that the Court of Appeal would have overturned the Divisional Court’s decision to publish the material.   
"The government has made sustained and successful efforts to ensure Mr Mohamed's legal counsel had full access to the material in question. We remain determined to uphold our very strong commitment against mistreatment of any kind."

Following Mr Miliband's statement, the foreign secretary faced a stream of angry responses from backbenchers about the UK's involvement in US rendition.

Labour MP for Walsall North David Winnick said: "Did British security officials know that torture was being applied to Mr Mohamed by the US?

"If no action was taken by us, and no information given to ministers, I consider that to be a stain on the reputation of our country.

"It should never happen again. It's not simply good enought to say that Britain is not a party to torture.

"If in fact we know that torture's being carried out by our closest ally, we have a responsible to act, and I'm afraid in the case of Mr Mohamed we didn't do so."

Channel 4 News correspondent Andy Davies said: "For a case which has centred on the non-publication of just seven paragraphs of a high court judgment, it has had enormous traction in international politics.

"The long-running case of Binyam Mohamed versus the foreign secretary (today's appeal follows six high court judgements) has even, if you accept the argument of the government, unsettled international intelligence relationships, with the potential to cause considerable damage to Britain's national security."

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