The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that a verdict in a British court might cause U.S. intelligence to curtail information-sharing with its British counterparts.
The verdict in the case Mohamed, et al. v. Jeppesen, revealed seven paragraphs, previously redacted, from an earlier court ruling. The paragraphs summarize the detention and extraordinary rendition of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident captured in Pakistan and detained in Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay during the Bush administration.
A year ago the Obama administration announced it would keep the same position as the Bush administration in the lawsuit, which involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition.
They sued a San Jose Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.
Two years ago the case was thrown out on the basis of national security, but last year the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal, brought by the ACLU.
All terrorism-related charges against Mohamed were dropped in 2007. The Obama administration delivered him to British custody last year.
Mohamed claims to have been subjected to torture, and after he was released he pursued the disclosure of documents from the British government confirming that British officials were aware of and complicit in what he alleges was torture.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt today said that the Obama administration was "deeply disappointed with the court's judgment today, because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations. As we warned, the court's judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward."
Labolt said that the verdict "means that we need to redouble our efforts to work through this challenge, because the UK remains a key partner in our collective efforts to suppress terrorism and other threats to our national security."
Ben Wizner, staff attorney for the ACLU National Security Project disputed the Obama administration's argument.
"The suppression of government documents confirming Binyam Mohamed's rendition and torture by the United States has never been about protecting secrets; it has always been about preventing legal accountability for torture," Wizner said.
Wizner said that everything in the newly released documents was already widely known. "The British court's ruling will further undermine the Obama administration's efforts to use dubious claims of state secrets to prevent accountability for torturers and justice for victims," Wizner said. "After today's developments, it would be a farce if Binyam Mohamed and other victims of U.S. torture policies were denied their day in court."
The formerly redacted paragraphs in question state:
"[It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2001 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.
"v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.
"vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and “disappearing” were played upon.
"vii) It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews
"viii) It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the interviews were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering.
"ix) We regret to have to conclude that the reports provide to the SyS made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment.
"x) The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.]"
The U.S. government "made its strongly held views known throughout this process," LaBolt said. "We appreciate that the U.K. government stood by the principle of protecting foreign government intelligence in its court filings."