It’s a convenient argument for both governments, but the Binyam Mohamed ruling will not harm UK-US intelligence co-operation
The UK court ruling in the case of Binyam Mohamed demonstrates once more that judges on both sides of the Atlantic have had enough of governments hiding behind national security “secrets” to shield themselves from their many trespasses in the “war on terror”.
The court’s decision to publish a seven-paragraph summary of intelligence given to MI5 by the CIA has been met by the convenient, and wholly unbelievable, argument from British and American officials that the release could damage intelligence co-operation and sharing between the two allies.
The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, has argued that keeping the summary secret was vital to ensuring that the US continues to share vital intelligence with the British security services. The White House only played up this threat after the decision was handed down.
“We’re deeply disappointed with the court’s judgment because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “As we warned, the court’s judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward.”
There are two important things to remember when analysing Miliband and the White House’s arguments concerning the “intelligence” released on the treatment of Ethiopian-born British resident Binyam Mohamed while he was in US custody.
First, the seven-paragraph summary details that the interrogation practices endured by Mohamed while in American custody during 2002 constituted “at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. It reveals nothing besides the fact the US and its proxies resorted to barbarous methods to extract information from captives they believed were al-Qaida terrorists.
Second, far more damning information on Mohamed’s torture was published last year by a US court. In November 2009, US District Judge Gladys Kessler granted the habeus corpus petition of Gitmo detainee Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed – another indicator of the cross-Atlantic return of the rule of law. The prisoner had been held indefinitely without charge at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, based partly on Mohamed’s confessions to US interrogators. There was one problem, however: US interrogators coerced Mohamed’s allegations against Mohammed through torture. “The government does not challenge Petitioner’s evidence of Binyam Mohamed’s abuse,” Kessler wrote in her decision. It’s important to note that the “abuse” Mohamed says he endured during his detention included having his genitals slashed by a razor.
In short order, the information the British court ordered released yesterday was neither intelligence nor secret. What it did show, however, was what we already knew. The US had systematically tortured detainees it deemed terrorists without due process, and British intelligence was complicit.
Therefore the probability the United States would jeopardise its intelligence-sharing relationship with the United Kingdom over the Mohamed release is remote. It would demonstrate that the United States values protecting its lawless practices overseas more than the national security of its greatest ally. Imagine the public relations disaster if the British public learned the United States did not share intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack because of this judicial decision. Fortunately, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the head of the US intelligence community, has already played down any break in the cross-Atlantic alliance. “This court decision creates additional challenges, but our two countries will remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups,” yesterday’s statement read.
So when the Milibands and White House apparatchiks of this world claim that exposing state crimes jeopardises the government’s ability to protect its citizens from terrorist atrocities, it’s important to remember the words of the radical political philosopher Michael Bakunin:
“There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: ‘for reasons of state’.”
Torture is a crime; it is not a state secret.