Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 6 News List

UK court condemns US refusal to give torture evidence

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The high court in London on Wednesday condemned as “deeply disturbing” a refusal by the US to disclose evidence that could prove a UK resident held at Guantanamo Bay was tortured before confessing to terrorism offences.

The court said there was “no rational basis” for the US failure to reveal the contents of documents essential to the defense of Binyam Mohamed, who faces the death penalty.

In a particularly damning passage, UK Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones said claims by Mohamed’s lawyers that the US was refusing to release the papers because “torturers do not readily hand over evidence of their conduct” could not be dismissed and required an answer.

The judges said they were unaware of any precedent for such serious allegations against “the government of a foreign friendly state and our oldest and closest ally” as those made in this case.

The US had not provided any explanation for its conduct, though it had had “ample time” to do so, the judges said.

Thomas and Lloyd said the documents provided the “only independent evidence” capable of helping Mohamed and his defense.

Suppressing the material “would be to deny him the opportunity of timely justice in respect of the charges against him,” which was a principle dating back to “at least the time of Magna Carta and which is a basic part of our common law and of democratic values.”

They said UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband conceded there was an “arguable case” that Mohamed had been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. Yet Miliband also wanted to suppress relevant documents, not because they would reveal any intelligence operations but because the US claimed that if they were disclosed serious harm would be done to “intelligence sharing” between the UK and the US.

The judges said it was clear the UK had “facilitated” Mohamed’s interrogation when he was unlawfully detained in Pakistan before being secretly rendered to Morocco, Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo. The US was using confessions made after two years of unlawful “incommunicado detention” on charges where the death penalty might be sought, the judges said yesterday.

They noted that a military prosecutor at the US base had recently resigned in protest against the treatment of prisoners, including the use of a “frequent flyer program.” The judges described this as a “euphemism for a sleep deprivation program.”

They said: “This is a practice which the United Kingdom expressly prohibits.”

Charges against Mohamed — including that he was involved in a dirty bomb plot — have been dropped, allegedly to prevent the US from revealing torture evidence. The US authorities now planned to charge him with other offences, the judges said on Wednesday.

The judges took the extraordinary step of inviting the media to challenge previous decisions to hold many of the case’s hearings in camera.

“Although the argument took place in closed session,” they said, “the issue is one of considerable importance in the context of open justice [and] to the rule of law.”

They suspended proceedings pending a case in the US courts, where defense lawyers are also trying to force disclosure. That federal court, the UK judges said on Wednesday, might be given explanations about US conduct “denied to this court.”

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the charity Reprieve, described Mohamed’s treatment by the US as a “litany of misconduct.”

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