Hillary Clinton faces difficult questions from Reprieve

August 19, 2009

Image of Hillary Clinton

The Obama Administration will deliberately endanger innocent British civilians if torture evidence is revealed, the British government says; lawyers will today write to Secretary Hillary Clinton to verify the claim.

The US government has made an explicit threat that it is prepared to put ordinary British lives at risk in order to prevent a British Court from publishing its findings relating to details of the US torture of a British resident, the UK government has told the British High Court.

According to the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the consequences of the US threats if the British Court publishes its findings in the Binyam Mohamed case – findings which all parties accept contain no security-sensitive information – would be potentially deadly for ordinary British citizens.

The British charity Reprieve has today written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to verify the Administration’s position.

Clive Stafford Smith OBE, the Director of Reprieve and a lawyer for Binyam Mohamed, wrote:

“I write as an American citizen to seek confirmation of an extraordinary claim made by the British Government, regarding your stated willingness to put innocent British lives at risk. I feel sure that this must be a mistake, but the media has been very specific in its quotations, and the British judges have framed your view as being one that is callous towards innocent people in the UK.”

“(This) is the question I put to you today, and I would be grateful for a plain answer:

Given that the UK is obliged under the Convention Against Torture to investigate and reveal evidence of torture, and given that it is a criminal offence under Section 52 of the International Criminal Courts Act to cover up evidence of torture, is it really your position, and the position of the Obama Administration, that you will put innocent British lives at risk by cutting intelligence sharing, if an independent court in the UK publishes seven paragraphs of its own judgment which contain nothing that implicates security concerns, but rather contains only its findings of fact relating to crimes committed by US personnel?

“I appreciate your assistance in this matter, which is of grave importance to the British Court, to the people of the United Kingdom, and to Anglo-American relations.”

The case has created a scandal in the UK, with the US government perceived to be bullying supposedly independent British judges. In London’s High Court on 29th July, Lord Justice Thomas declared that the US view did not reflect any acceptable legal principle, but rather reflected “the exercise of naked political power” – in the vernacular, of ‘might-makes-right’.

In challenging the US position, Mr Vassall-Adams, the barrister for Guardian News and Media Limited, remarked:

“…one thinks of the fact that the US and the UK fought alongside each other in World War II, were key allies throughout the Cold War, that the UK is a key ally of the US as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, then one mentions Iraq, Afghanistan, international terrorism and the acceptance that the UK is the US’s key international intelligence ally, enjoying an exceptional degree of co operation enjoyed by less than a handful of other states, if…you ask yourself would the US jeopardise all of that for seven paragraphs of the court’s judgment, moreover in a case that has already been very highly publicised, in my submission it fails the common sense test.”

Should Secretary Clinton confirm the threat, the High Court may have no choice but to bow to the threat and suppress the information, albeit with considerable regret at the state of US-UK relations.

Clare Algar, the Executive Director of Reprieve said:

“If the Obama Administration is indeed levelling threats at innocent British citizens, it is time to get seriously worried about the so-called ‘special relationship’.

The United States must understand the importance of an independent judiciary, and that one democracy cannot tell another how to administer its legal system. We sincerely hope Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s fears are misplaced or, if not, that Secretary Clinton will see sense and withdraw this shocking threat to ordinary British people.”

-ENDS-

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 Guantánamo 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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