LONDON (Reuters) - A British court ruled on Thursday that the government must disclose evidence to a defendant being held at Guantanamo Bay, a decision that carried with it implicit criticism of U.S. government detention policies.
In its ruling, the High Court said Britain’s Foreign Office must provide Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Pakistan in 2002 and now held at Guantanamo, with information relating to his time in detention.
His lawyers say the material supports his claim to have been “extraordinarily rendered”, tortured and forced into a confession on terrorism charges.
Lord Justice Thomas and Lord Justice Lloyd Jones said the Foreign Office had a duty to “disclose in confidence” the information Mohamed was seeking in order for his lawyers to mount a proper defence of the charges against him.
Mohamed’s legal team was buoyant after the ruling, calling it a “momentous decision” that showed the legal system’s determination to stand up for human rights while condemning the U.S. government’s detention procedures at Guantanamo.
“Today’s judgment reflects the abhorrence of decent society at the methods employed by the United States’ government in the supposed ‘war on terror’,” said Richard Stein, a lawyer with Leigh Day & Co, the solicitors who brought the case.
“We can only hope that the foreign secretary will now reflect on this judgment and provide direct assistance to Binyam’s defence team.”
In a statement, the Foreign Office said it was considering the implications of the court’s rulings “very carefully” and said it had only not divulged the information so far because of national security reasons.
“We have never contested that Mr Mohamed’s defence lawyers should have access to information which would assist him in his defence in any trial at Guantanamo Bay,” the statement said.
“For strong reasons of national security, to which the court accepted we were entitled to give the highest weight, we could not agree to disclose this information voluntarily.”
Lawyers for Mohamed, an Ethiopian national, say the information relates to interrogations he was subjected to by the secret services while being held in Pakistan in 2002.
Following those interrogations, lawyers say Mohamed was flown by the CIA to Morocco in July 2002, where he was tortured, including having his penis cut with a razor. He was held there for 18 months, they say, and quizzed about information they argue could only have come from British questioning.
In January 2004 Mohamed was flown to Kabul and then transferred to Bagram air base. U.S. authorities deny that Mohamed was extraordinarily rendered or tortured and have only provided details of his detention in Afghanistan.
He is being tried before a U.S. military commission on terrorism charges. His lawyers say he faces the death penalty if found guilty, but the Pentagon, which administers the commission, says the maximum sanction is life in prison.
In its ruling, the High Court levelled implicit criticism at the U.S. government’s judicial procedures and suggested that basic rights that the British have held essential since the time of Magna Carta were being overlooked or set aside.
(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami)
Editing by Jon Boyle/Tony Austin