Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

MI5 has 'dubious record' on Binyam Mohamed, judge says

Binyam Mohamed
Mr Mohamed arrived back in the UK in February 2009

MI5 officers have been accused by a senior judge of having a "dubious record" over the treatment of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Lord Neuberger said some officers had been less than frank about what they knew about Mr Mohamed's ill-treatment.

His criticism was made public after an exceptionally unusual court decision to publish his draft legal opinion on MI5's respect for human rights.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband rejected the suggestion MI5 had lied.

However, he said he was disappointed by a Court of Appeal decision on Friday to publish Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger's comments.

David Miliband said he completely rejected any suggestion MI5 had lied

The judge's full criticism of MI5 officers had initially been omitted from a judgement published earlier this month after the government protested it went "well beyond" anything found by the High Court judges.

Mr Miliband said: "The judges have a complete right to express their opinions, that's important in a free society. Equally, the government doesn't have to agree with everything that they say."

Mr Mohamed says he was tortured in Pakistan while held by the US, with the knowledge of MI5.

The earlier court judgement revealed MI5 officers were aware that Mr Mohamed had been deprived of sleep, threatened, shackled and left in so low a mental state that he was on suicide watch.

British security services denied knowledge of any ill-treatment of US detainees.

Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent
Dominic Casciani, BBC News
Binyam Mohamed's case has ended in the worst possible legal outcome for the government and MI5.

A summary of his ill-treatment was revealed - and now we know that one of the country's top judges believes that some officers were less than frank.

The top judge removed his broader accusations against the security service - but he stood by his core criticisms of some officers' behaviour in the case of Mr Mohamed.

The implication of those words has caused such concern in government that MI5's chief was moved to put on record, in a national newspaper, that his service has never endorsed or used torture - and his officers do not collude in it either.

MI5's critics say those words are welcome, but do not answer allegations about the past. Those critics will be emboldened by Lord Neuberger's opinion and will press for more transparency and legal redress for former detainees.

But in a key paragraph of his ruling, published on Friday, Lord Neuberger said: "In this case, that does not seem to have been true.

"Some security services officials appear to have a dubious record relating to actual involvement - and frankness about any such involvement - with the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials."

MI5 had stressed to parliamentarians that they "operated in a culture that respected human rights and that coercive techniques were alien to the service's general ethics, methodology and training", Lord Neuberger noted.

The judge then said that while the good faith of the foreign secretary was not in doubt, a question mark now hung over some of the legal statements he had made based on MI5 advice.

Mr Miliband said the government had "full confidence" in the way UK security services operated and in their accountability systems.

He added that he "completely rejected" any suggestion MI5 had lied when giving evidence to committees of MPs.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said revised guidelines on treatment of detainees overseas would be published shortly.

Ethiopian-born UK resident Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002
He was handed over to US agents and interrogated as a suspected terrorist
Courts say he was subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" before being secretly flown to Morocco; there, he was tortured and then flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan
He was later transferred to Guantanamo Bay and finally released in early 2009
The US told British officials that Mr Mohamed was being held and had been mistreated - and the Court of Appeal ordered the government to reveal what it knew
Mr Mohamed says MI5 was complicit in his torture because it could have intervened - but instead supplied questions to help his interrogators

"We condemn torture without reservation. We do not torture, and we do not ask others to do so on our behalf," he added.

But shadow foreign secretary William Hague said a "cloud had been cast over the intelligence services" and the government needed to do "everything possible to restore public confidence".

Lord Neuberger agreed to reveal the original wording of his judgement in the interests of "open justice" after protests from lawyers for Mr Mohamed, the media, and legal pressure groups.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said he welcomed the court's "independence from the attempts of bullying" and the case for a judicial inquiry was "now unanswerable".

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: "The implication that David Miliband had the wool pulled over his eyes is deeply embarrassing for the foreign secretary."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights pressure group Liberty, said: "This has been a shameful business.

"Complicity in torture is bad enough without repeat and strenuous attempts to cover it up."

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said the affair had been "bedevilled by attempts to block the truth".

She echoed calls for an inquiry into all aspects of the UK's alleged involvement in human rights abuses.

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