Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 18:34 UK

Binyam claims 'risk to UK lives'

Binyam Mohamed
Mr Mohamed, a British resident, claims he was repeatedly tortured

British lives could be endangered if allegations of torture of a former Guantanamo Bay inmate are published, the High Court has been told.

A lawyer for the foreign secretary said an official summary of Binyam Mohamed's allegations must remain secret.

The US would respond to publication by withholding intelligence, which could endanger British lives, she said.

Mr Mohamed's lawyers want the High Court to disclose a seven-paragraph briefing on his alleged mistreatment.

Mr Mohamed, a British resident, was arrested in 2002 in Pakistan following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Intelligence officials claimed he was an al-Qaeda-trained bomber heading back to the UK.

Mr Mohamed alleges that over the following two years he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

In February this year Mr Mohamed was freed and returned to the UK. He is pressing for the release of material which he says shows the UK knew he was being mistreated.

Relations damaged?

The key document is a summary of abuse allegations that US intelligence officers shared with their counterparts in London.

The High Court has previously heard warnings that relations between the British and American intelligence agencies could be harmed if the summary is given to Mr Mohamed and made public.

But on Wednesday, Karen Steyn, for Foreign Secretary David Miliband, went further, saying that relations would be damaged to the point that intelligence would be withheld.

This, the court heard, was a view shared by Mr Miliband and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Ms Steyn went on to warn that such withholding of intelligence could ultimately endanger British lives.

Guy Vassall-Adams, representing the British media, disputed this claim. He said the position of President Obama's administration could be clearly seen in a CIA letter to London on the issue.

That letter, the court heard, only stated that disclosure "may result in a constriction of the US-UK relationship".

Mr Vassall-Adams told the judges this should be interpreted as meaning only that relations could be damaged.

Confirmation sought

Lord Justice Thomas, sitting with Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, said that the "critical question" that needed to be answered was whether "could" had become "would".

He told Ms Steyn that the seven paragraph summary was, in itself, no threat to national security.

"So the US has taken the position that this is so serious that it is prepared to reassess its relationship with the UK and put lives at risk?" he asked.

Ms Steyn replied: "The foreign secretary's assessment is based on his own considerable experience and expertise in this field, the expert advice he has received, his direct conversations with others on the issues involved and his direct contact with people in the US.

"I submit it is not open to your lordships to take a different view."

The judges said they were so concerned that they had "no wriggle room" that they wanted a transcript of the argument sent directly to the foreign secretary for him to confirm what had been said in his name.

Mr Miliband is currently in Washington for talks with Mrs Clinton. He has previously denied that the US threatened the UK over the release of the material, but said effective intelligence-sharing between the governments depended on confidence being maintained.



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