Torture cover-up continues: FCO submits to the British court that the Obama Administration wants evidence of Binyam Mohamed’s torture to remain suppressed

April 22, 2009

Image of Binyam Mohammed

The British Government today attempted again to persuade High Court judges not to allow the release of information about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, reiterating the US government’s hard-line position on the case, supposedly continued under President Obama.

The Foreign Office argued that the US government continues to demand the suppression of evidence concerning Binyam Mohamed’s abuse.

The judges, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, expressed some incredulity at this argument, citing the new openness of the new Administration as evidenced by Obama’s recent release of memos detailing CIA torture methods.

The judges promised to hand down their judgement swiftly, adding that if the Foreign Office wished to change their position in the meantime it would be very welcome.

In a letter to the court, David Miliband’s legal advisor described on-going discussions with the Obama Administration:

While the US promised that “the Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s action that they have a right to know”, Letter, at 4 para. 12, apparently neither American nor British citizens have the right to know whether US personnel tortured Mr. Mohamed, and then conspired with British agents on a cover-up: “the position of the new US Administration on the question of the public disclosure of US intelligence information … remains as previously represented….” Letter, at 4 para. 15.

However, Mr Saini QC, acting for the Foreign Office, acknowledged that the release of the torture memos throws new light on the Obama Administration’s attitude, and promised that the FCO will reconsider their position.

Meanwhile, the government turned over an additional 13 documents detailing Mr Mohamed’s torture to the court. After being forced to apologise to the court, the government nevertheless continues to withhold these documents – in addition to the earlier 42 – from the public.

The FCO continues to insist that torture evidence should remain secret

“According to the Foreign Secretary, President Obama continues to fudge on the torture issue, telling the world the US is now open, but refusing the allow the public to see the evidence of torture,” said Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith. “Surely it is past time for that criminal acts committed by US and British personnel be made public.”

“The Foreign Office insists that it was not ‘threatened’ by the US, notwithstanding the fact, repeated eight times by the judges, that there clearly was a threat to withdraw intelligence sharing with Britain. Our government cannot have it both ways.” said Clare Algar, Executive Director of Reprieve. “If there is a threat then both the British and American governments must say so clearly and unambiguously. If there is not a threat then the High Court was misled and there is no reason to continue to suppress the torture evidence.”

Clive Stafford Smith added: “By making deliberately vague public statements, David Miliband and the Obama administration have tried to spin their way out of serious trouble. Such evasive tactics have no place at the British High Court.”


For further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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