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Wednesday, February 10, 2010 

The seven paragraphs.

Reading the seven paragraphs that have finally been released detailing the CIA's treatment of Binyam Mohamed after today's ruling by the Court of Appeal, it's initially difficult to know quite why the government was so determined that they should remain secret. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know: that the US was systematically mistreating almost anyone that came into their custody in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this was just the start of the torture regime which Binyam Mohamed found himself under; that the CIA, despite the claims of our security services, had been letting them know just what they were doing to individuals connected to this country; and that despite knowing full well that what the CIA was doing to Mohamed at this early stage would breach our obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as found during the 1970s when the "five techniques" were outlawed in Northern Ireland, they did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop his mistreatment.

Why then did they appeal, time and again until finally giving up at some point last week to stop these already widely known facts from entering into the public domain? The claims, repeated ad nauseam today that this was all about the "control" principle, that one country does not publish intelligence provided by another without its express permission is wholly unconvincing. Even if it does annoy the CIA and the US that more of their dirty secrets are being thoroughly examined and released by the courts of another country, it's nothing as to what they themselves have already admitted that they did and authorised, such as the Bybee memos and the waterboarding of the few top al-Qaida members whom they managed to capture. Indeed, the only reason why the Court of Appeal decided that seven paragraphs could today be published was that far more gruesome evidence of the torture which Mohamed underwent was released by a US court in a judgement in November of last year. Lord Neuberger quotes from it in his section of today's ruling (paragraph 126):

[Mr Mohamed's] trauma lasted for two long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.

...

At page 58, she said that "[t]he [US] Government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of [Mr Mohamed's] story of brutal treatment" and repeated that point at pages 62 and 64. On pages 61-2, she said that his "persistence in telling his story" and "very vigorous… and very public ... pursu[ance of] his claims in the British courts" indicated that his evidence was true and "demonstrates his willingness to test the truth of his version of events in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion". In the passage just quoted from page 70 of her Opinion, she referred to Mr Mohamed's "lengthy prior torture" as an established fact.


Compared to the seven paragraphs we have today, it doesn't really get much more damning.

Fortunately, the government, through its staggeringly inept attempts to stop even the slightest criticism of the security services from being made by those mad, unelected, unaccountable judges, has completely given the game away. Having seen the draft judgement, as is usual, the government's QC Jonathan Sumption was presumably ordered to complain about the withering remarks by Lord Neuberger in paragraph 168, which is distinctly unusual. Even more unusual is that Neuberger acquiesced, and withdrew his comments. Worth quoting in full is Sumption's objections:

The Master of the Rolls's observations, to whichever service they relate, are likely to receive more public attention than any other part of the judgments. They will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole ('it appears likely that there were others'); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Neuberger, whether through acute analysis or just searing condemnation, got far too close to the reality of how the security services were acting post-9/11. From repeated accounts of MI5 and 6 officers visiting those held in by either the CIA or the Pakistanis, we already knew that despite being told of how they were being mistreated nothing was done, and that even on some occasions there was total complicity, with questions from the UK authorities being asked while the detainees were undergoing stress techniques and worse. They clearly, as Neuberger identified, had no problem with operating within a culture where human rights were not respected. Most pointedly, he also noted that the security services had deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee. "Deliberately misled" is mild; they lied and lied and lied, all the way up to the very top.

That is though what the security services do for a living - they lie to people, they mislead and they abuse. For a judge to say that the Intelligence and Security Committee is useless, which is what he was more than implying, is far too damaging. For one to imply that the assurances given by MI5 to politicians are worthless, because of their "culture of suppression", is even worse. As Ian Cobain notes in his annotations on the letter sent by Sumption, the courts are in danger of dismissing the reassurances of politicians based on information from MI5 because of its continued pattern of deception. If they'll lie to the politicians that represent them, then it therefore follows that they'll lie to everyone. They therefore then have to be made accountable to someone, and that someone would likely have to be a fully independent, judicial committee, not a parliamentary select committee packed with ex-ministers.

Despite then already being fully aware that the information in the seven paragraphs was already well known, the real reason for wanting them to remain secret was because they show just how out of control our supposedly fully accountable and enlightened defenders of British security actually were and indeed remain. They show that they'll lie not just to the public, but to politicians as well. And despite knowing this, those self-same politicians are far more interested in protecting their own hides than in shining a light on the agencies that colluded in the torture of both British citizens and residents. The sad thing is that they succeeded on the principle, but not on this particularly case, thanks to the same United States which supported the government's attempt to stop the paragraphs being published. That must hurt, but not as much as a fully damning judgement with an unexpurgated paragraph 168 would have done.

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This sort of stuff really is your forte. That is one cracking analysis which I wouldn't presume to add to, other than with a rather apposite quotation from Joseph Persico's 'Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage'

Espionage involves peeking at the other fellow's hand, marking the cards, cooking the books, poisoning the well, breaking the rules, hitting below the belt, cheating, lying, deceiving, defaming, snooping, eavesdropping, prying, stealing, bribing, suborning, burglarizing, forging, misleading, conducting dirty tricks, dirty pool, skulduggery, blackmail, seduction, everything not sporting, not kosher, not cricket. In short, espionage stands virtue on its head and elevates vice instead.

- all to further our mission to do good in the world naturally.

Some things never change eh? and despite all the pompous, ridiculous - not to say comical if it weren't so damned depressing - protestations of their apologists (well he would say that wouldn't he? - aka Mandy Rice Davies) the routine behaviour of our own SIS's are most certainly no exception

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