Britain’s government on Wednesday disclosed once-secret information on the treatment of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who says he was tortured in U.S. custody, losing an extended court battle to keep the material classified.
Judges rejected the government’s claim that revealing the information would damage U.S.-British intelligence cooperation.
The information disclosed consisted of a summary of U.S. intelligence information given to British spy agencies about former detainee Binyam Mohamed’s treatment during interrogations by the Americans in May 2002.
The paragraphs read in court disclosed that he was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” including sleep deprivation, shackling and threats resulting in mental stress and suffering.
Ethiopia-born Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and says he was tortured there and in Morocco before being flown to Guantanamo Bay. He was released without charge last year.
The decision upholds an earlier High Court ordering officials to make public the secret seven-paragraph summary of U.S. intelligence files. The Foreign Office appealed that ruling, but promised on Wednesday to post the paragraphs on its Web site.
The seven paragraphs summarize a U.S. account of Mohamed’s treatment given to British intelligence before he was interviewed by a British MI5 agent in May 2002, the High Court disclosed last year.
Mohamed’s lawyers had long claimed the secret paragraphs prove he was mistreated and that the U.S. and British governments were complicit in his abuse. They have been fighting for access to the documents, along with The Associated Press and other news organizations.
The case began in 2008 when Mohamed was facing a military trial at Guantanamo. His lawyers sued the British government for intelligence documents they said could prove that evidence against him had been gathered under torture.
Mohamed, 31, moved to Britain as a teenager. He was arrested as a terrorist suspect in 2002 in Karachi by Pakistani forces and later transferred to Morocco, Afghanistan and in 2004 to Guantanamo Bay.
He says he was tortured in Pakistan, and that interrogators in Morocco beat him, deprived him of sleep and sliced his genitals with a scalpel.
It isn’t clear which country the interrogators were from, but Mohamed has alleged the questions put to him could only have come from British intelligence agents.
MI5 has said it did not know Mohamed was being tortured, or held in Morocco.
Mohamed was charged by the U.S. with plotting with al-Qaeda to bomb American apartment buildings, but the charges were later dropped and in February 2009 he was sent back to Britain. That chain of events led to the lawsuit becoming a larger battle for access to information involving the AP, Guardian News and Media, the BBC, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other media organizations.
The case has seen judges strongly criticize the British government for trying to conceal information. The High Court justices last year said the public interest in disclosing the seven paragraphs was “overwhelming.”
Mohamed is among seven former Guantanamo detainees suing the British government, accusing the security services of “aiding and abetting” their extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment and torture.
Government officials insist Britain does not condone or participate in torture, but officials have avoided answering specific allegations that Britain participated indirectly by obtaining intelligence from suspects who had been tortured overseas, or sending agents to visit suspects who suffered mistreatment in foreign facilities.