News groups condemn Guantanamo 'torture' secrecy

News organisations have told Press Gazette of their concern after a joint bid to make Guantanamo Bay torture allegations public was blocked by the Government.

Lawyers for Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, claim he was tortured by American forces, and want documents detailing that abuse made public.

Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, and has been held by the US at Guantanamo Bay since September 2004.

This week, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled, on Government advice, that seven paragraphs from his files must stay secret.

The Government had issued a Public Interest Immunity certificate, in the interests of “national security”, after pressure from the US.

However, Thomas and Jones criticised the ban, saying torture allegations should be made public – “politically embarrassing though it might be”.

Last year, in an unsual move, they invited media submissions on why the information should be made public.

The Associated Press, Guardian News and Media, the BBC, The Times, Independent News and Media, the Press Association and The New York Times, submitted a 25-page document – seen by Press Gazette – which made their case clear.

It concluded: “This is not, by any means, a routine open justice case. This is a case relating to allegations that a British resident was tortured, and that the UK authorities were complicit in that torture.

“These concerns can only properly be judged in the light of the information that was in the possession of the UK authorities in April – May 2002.

“That is why there is such an exceptionally high public interest in the seven closed paragraphs.”

Reaction

But, after it was announced this week that the seven paragraphs would not be disclosed, news organisations have told Press Gazette the Government is wrong in bowing to US pressure.

Mike Dodd, the Press Association’s in-house media law expert, said: “One, this involves a British resident.

“Two, there were very strong suggestions that, at some time or other, he has been tortured – and, not only tortured, but members of his own security services have known about it.

“The government is saying this is material too important to tell the public. I have to say I find that objectionable.

“We’re supposed to be living in a democracy, and a state which abides by the rule of law.

“If there is a rat in the box, we have to get the rat out and kill it – not keep it in there.”

Guardian News and Media’s in-house lawyer, Jan Johannes, said: “We’re going back to the principles about open justice, and freedom of expression.

“We’re very concerned about how often terrorism case hearings are in camera [in secret] and judgments are closed to the public.

“Obviously, there are exceptional cases, but often, they use ‘national security’ more broadly, in that it will damage international relations. That’s often a much lower threshold.

“[But] national security involves the man in the street, and he wants to know what is happening. If you’re not able to report, how can the man in the street know?”

Mohamed’s lawyers have asked the High Court to reconsider the decision, with the news organisations writing in support.

But foreign secretary David Miliband said he would not press the US to change its mind on publication.

‘”I am not going to join a lobbying campaign against the American government on this decision,” he said. “It is a decision that they have to make.”

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