LONDON (Reuters) - The British government lost a legal battle Wednesday to prevent the disclosure of secret U.S. intelligence material relating to allegations of “cruel and inhuman” treatment involving the CIA.
London’s Court of Appeal rejected a request by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to prevent senior judges from disclosing claims that former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed had been shackled and subjected to sleep deprivation and threats while in U.S. custody.
The office of Dennis Blair, U.S. director of national intelligence, issued a statement saying the British court’s decision “to release classified information provided by the United States is not helpful, and we deeply regret it.”
“The protection of confidential information is essential to strong, effective security and intelligence cooperation among allies,” the statement said. It indicated the ruling would create “challenges” but the two countries would “remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups.”
Miliband had argued that full disclosure of the redacted claims might make the United States less willing to share intelligence and thus prejudice Britain’s national security.
Recent events showed the importance of sharing intelligence, and the U.S. authorities were concerned about the release of such material, he told parliament, adding that he was working with U.S. officials to ensure bilateral ties were not damaged.
Mohamed, an Ethiopian national and British resident, was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002. He says he was flown to Morocco on a CIA plane and held for 18 months, during which he says he was repeatedly tortured, including having his penis cut with a knife. Morocco has denied holding him.
He was transferred to Afghanistan in 2004 and later moved to Guantanamo Bay, U.S. authorities have said. He was never charged and returned to Britain in February 2009.
London’s High Court ruled in 2008 that the British government must disclose all evidence held against Mohamed.
The court excluded seven sensitive paragraphs supplied by U.S. intelligence services, and judges said later the United States had threatened to end intelligence cooperation if the evidence of alleged torture was released.
But last October, two High Court judges ruled there was “an overwhelming public interest” in releasing the details, a decision the Appeal Court upheld Wednesday.
“The treatment reported ... could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” the now public judgment said.
Miliband said the Appeal Court would have upheld the principle that no country should disclose intelligence from another without its agreement — had the substance of the paragraphs not already been put into the public domain by a U.S. court judgment in a separate case in December.
“Without that disclosure, it is clear that the Court of Appeal would have overturned the Divisional Court’s decision to publish the material,” Miliband said in a statement.
He told parliament Britain was opposed to torture. “The UK firmly opposes torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This is not just about legal obligations, it is also about our values as a nation ...”
Human rights campaigners said the government had gone to great lengths to conceal torture and the Foreign Office had been concerned mainly with saving face.
“These embarrassing paragraphs reveal nothing of use to terrorists but they do show something of the UK government’s complicity with the most shameful part of the War on Terror,” said Shami Chakrabati, director of rights campaign group Liberty.
Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington; editing by Tim Pearce and Anthony Boadle