Mililband accused of trying to cover up top judges’ searing criticism of MI5 over torture

A sensational clash over MI5’s involvement in torture has erupted between the government and top judges in the case of the former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, a British resident. The court had been asked to lift a bar on details of a Divisional Court ruling that Mohamed had suffered brutal and degrading treatment at the hands of Pakistani and American interrogators with MI5 complicity for over two years. In fact the appeal judges decided that a disclosure ruling was unnecessary. Judge CJ said: We are no longer dealing with the allegations of torture and ill-treatment; they have been established in the judgement of the court, publicly revealed by the judicial processes within the USA itself.” An American court had found that Mohamed had suffered two years of torture, had been deprived of sleep and food, held in stress positions, forced to listen to other prisoners screaming while locked in a pitch black cell and had his genitals mutilated.

After the ruling, the Foreign Office published the seven previously redacted paragraphs of the earlier Divisional Court ruling. Although revealing at least brutal and degrading treatment, civil rights lawyers neverthess dubbed this “ a tactical retreat.” For the story was only hotting up.
It has since emerged that the foreign office’s lawyer wrote to the appeal court last Friday protesting that paragraph 168 of their draft judgment made “exceptionally damaging criticism” of the security services, (MI5) and requesting that the remarks be removed.

“If the observations in the draft judgment appear in the final version, the publicity likely to be given to them would be highly prejudicial to any criminal proceedings that might subsequently be brought.,”

These “proceedings” refer to police inquiries into the role of an MI5 officer connected to the interrogation which the US judge in the first hearing unambiguously called “torture.” Lord Neuberger who had drafted the judgment assumed that as the law requires, Mohammed’s counsel knew about the FCO barrister’s letter. But this wasn’t so. It turns out that the judge had excised the criticism of MI5 before a copy of the FCO’s lawyer has been received and Mohamed’s lawyer had a chance to argue against deletion. Greatly embarrassed, the three appeal judges will give Mohamed’s lawyers until Friday to appeal for the redacted criticism of MI5 to be restored. We know the gist of the judges criticism of MI5’s role because Mohamed’s lawyers have released their copy of the letter which quoted the paragraph at issue. Channel 4 News quoted it at length.

1. that the Security Service does not operate within a culture of respect for human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques
2. an MI5 witness’s evidence was characteristic of the service on this point.
3. That MI5 deliberately misled ( the Commons) intelligence and security committee
4. (the behaviour) reflects a culture of suppression.. that penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurance based on MI5’s information and advice”

In a highly combative interview on Channel 4 News, presenter Jon Snow accused the foreign secretary David Miliband of “ breaking the law” in failing to ensure that Mohammed’s lawyers had not seen the letter asking for the judicial comments on MI5 to be removed, in time to challenge it. The reason, he put it to Miliband, was to cover up MI5 involvement in benefiting from torture and not as he claimed, to protect the integrity of the highly prized US-UK intelligence relationship.

This searing judgment whether fully disclosed or not, raises tension between the judiciary and government over anti terrorism and human rights to a new pitch.

  • Alias

    If MI5 is misleading the Intelligence and Security Committee and, presumably, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, and can do so with impunity and with the connivance of government in covering-up illegality, then they are not accountable to democratic oversight. In effect then, they are a government within the State, directing national security policy on their own initiative by any means they deem expedient. That explains why the security policy in Northern Ireland was sometimes seemingly at odds with government policy at various times, e.g. when John Major stalled on the policy of integration the murder gangs into the political system for selfish political reasons but MI5 continued to push ahead with it.

    At any rate, a senior judge needs to be appointed to a new role of Commissioner with full powers to investigate the intelligence services, to make operational and organisational changes as applicable, for the purpose of holding them fully to account.

    We in Ireland also need a new security service to protect this State from these blackguards who seemingly have a free run at our political and economic affairs, putting politicians and senior state officials in their pockets (think Garda Commissioner Edmund Garvey, sacked by the government for ‘undisclosed’ reasons and Patrick Crinion, private secretary to the head of Irish Special Branch, arrested in Dublin for spying along with his MI6 handler and allowed to leave the state without charges) and spying on our businesses.

  • Alias

    “… directing national security policy on their own initiative [b]and pursuing it[/b] by any means they deem expedient.”

  • joeCanuck

    Alias,
    It’s hardly news that the British Security Services, formerly MI5 and MI6, are a law unto themselves. I mean, they even tried to organize a coup d’etat against Harold Wilson with Lord Mountbatten to be installed as head of state.
    Yes, they need to be held properly accountable, probably to a impartial select committee of the House of Commons.

  • Remember when the President of the United States was said to be above both the law and the Constitution? It seems from the reaction to the Binyam Mohamed story in predictable quarters that, not the actual President of the United States, but whoever they think ought to be, still is above both the law and the Constitution, not merely of the United States, but of every country on earth, including this one.

    Twice this week, so far, there have been major defeats in court for those who have dusted down old anti-liberty proposals from the Michael Howard years and before, and who have then tried to terrify us all into accepting them by noisily “foiling” non-existent plots to release ricin in London, to blow up Manchester United, and so on. As the events over Christmas were far from the first to illustrate, even such Islamic terrorists as we do face are isolated, short of funds, and not really any good at it, anyway.

    And they have nothing, nor have they ever had anything, to do with either Afghanistan or Iraq. Or, for that matter, Iran.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Thank goodness in Norn Iron , nothing like this ever happened. I recall Brian Faulkner replying to a journos question in internment week……August 1971.
    “we are British…we dont do that kind of thing”.
    Er…quite.

  • David Crookes

    First time I’ve heard the 1968 ‘coup’ mentioned for a good while, joeCanuck (#3). It was hinted at first in an episode of ‘Quiller’ (anyone remember that series?), and much later in an episode of ‘Spooks’. I reckon that we’ll learn the full facts about the Hess affair before we hear half the facts about 1968. Some people were worried, later in time, that Lord Mountbatten was going to come out strongly against the so-called nuclear deterrent. It’s difficult to know when particular facts are connected. Billy Hull once mused that Ulster might declare UDI and open up Lough Foyle to the Soviet Navy. He was shot shortly aferwards. And the day after the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, the Irish Army started practising ‘anti-nuclear manoeuvres’. A conspiracist would have great fun weaving these facts together.

  • joeCanuck
  • Secret Squirrel

    ……presenter Jon Snow accused the foreign secretary David Miliband of “ breaking the law” in failing to ensure that Mohammed’s lawyers had not seen the letter asking for the judicial comments on MI5 to be removed, in time to challenge it.

    Surely that should be ‘ in failing to ensure that Mohammed’s lawyers had seen the letter… ?

  • RobertNoonan
  • RobertNoonan

    Thye must have stopepd the practice of putting people in Helicopters and threatenning to throw them out.Things are improving within the facist state

  • Alias

    Joe, it is not a case of it being “news” (or allegation) but a case of it now being fact established by the court. Also, there is already a parlimentary committee to oversee MI5 so establishing a new one won’t alter the ability of MI5 to “deliberately” mislead it. That is why more effective controls need to be put in place.