Evasions on torture

On the ABC News programme ‘This Week' on February 14, former United States Vice-President Dick Cheney openly advocated torture, and confirmed that while in office he authorised it in over 30 cases. In the United Kingdom, the Court of Appeal accepted a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) request on February 8 that a passage be removed from a draft judgment confirming that the British security services had been complicit in torture. The deletion overrides a precedent set in 1637 that there must be no secret communication between lawyers and courts during proceedings. The senior appeal judge, Lord Neuberger, the head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales, seems to have assumed, incorrectly, that the FCO had followed the normal practice of copying its request to all the other parties, among whom are rights NGOs and certain British and American media organisations. The FCO claimed that publication would damage the U.S.-U.K. intelligence-sharing agreement under which British bodies had obtained the relevant information and would therefore jeopardise national security. The case related to Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and U.K. resident, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, sent to Morocco and Afghanistan where he was tortured, and held at Guantánamo Bay for five years without charge or trial.

The other parties in the case intervened with the appeal court, and on February 10 the court ordered the FCO to publish the material involved. The American and British reactions to both reveal calculated evasions. Mr. Cheney has effectively admitted to war crimes, and the U.S. has in the past prosecuted Japanese soldiers, as well as Texan police officers, for waterboarding. In the U.K., Alan Johnson, Home Minister, and Kim Howells, who chairs the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, have respectively attacked the media and commentators for spreading “groundless accusations,” “ludicrous lies,” and a “calumny and a slur” by saying the security services had colluded in torture. Since the appeal ruling, Foreign Minister David Miliband has said the legal position has not changed, as the details had already emerged in a U.S. court. A White House official, on condition of anonymity, says the intelligence-sharing agreement stands. The British government is, however, only trying to explain away the fact that it has systematically concealed torture and political embarrassment under unjustified claims of threats to national security. With such a record, western criticism of other states' rights records rings quite hollow.

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