MI5 in the dock

The Guardian exclusive comes as no surprise. It always seemed likely that it was the UK Government who asked the US to appear to threaten to withdraw security cooperation if details of the Binyam Mohamed case were disclosed in court. It’s pretty clear now that those details, however redacted, would have led to evidence of the British agents on site obtaining information extracted by Pakistani torturers. And now the Guardian quotes from MI5 evidence.

The officer, who can be identified only as Witness B, admitted that although Mohamed had been in Pakistani custody for five weeks, and he knew the country to have a poor human rights record, he did not ask whether he had been tortured or mistreated, did not inquire why he had lost weight, and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal.

(An interesting point is : why wait until now to publish? Was it in a closed session and is the Guardian risking contempt of court? )

At the same time, the first woman head of MI5 Stella Rimington has joined her successor Eliza Manningham-Buller to condemn 42 days detention and much else of the anti-terrorism policy since 9/11.
Says Rimington:
“The US has gone too far with Guantánamo and the tortures. MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.” She said the British secret services were “no angels” but insisted they did not kill people.

The Rimington blast comes as the government prepares to launch Contest2, a new counter-terrorism strategy” which threatens to clash with hearts and minds campaigns with young Muslims, as reported on the BBC ‘s Panorama last night.

A senior Whitehall source said that Muslim leaders who urge separation will be isolated and publicly rejected. He also said this would occur even if their comments fell within the law.This will include those who argue that Muslims should not vote and that homosexuals should be condemned on religious grounds


Are militant Islamists really such a big threat? It takes me back to a similar psychological moment in Belfast 1970 when the tough choice was between hearts and minds and a military approach. A very hard call of course, but in the intervening decades, have the tactics become any more refined?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London