Miliband faces tough questions over torture case
By Ian Dunt
David Miliband is facing searching questions about his statement to the Commons on Thursday concerning the case of Binyam Mohamed.
Earlier in the week, two High Court judges said they could not publish their full summary of the case because Foreign Office counsel told the court the US had threatened to stop cooperating with Britain on intelligence matters if it were to do so.
That statement now appears to have raised more questions than it answered, with shadow foreign secretary William Hague and Sarah Teather, chair of the all-party group on Guantánamo Bay, calling for answers on various aspects of the case.
Ms Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, called on Mr Miliband to release full details of the UK government’s alleged role in covering up the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed at Guantánamo Bay.
“It is not enough simply to speak out against torture; the foreign secretary has a duty to help root out and end such horrific practices,” she said.
“If the British government is sitting on vital evidence then they should immediately release it to the public.
She added: “There is no excuse to put our so-called ‘special relationship’ before the rule of law. The Labour government should be standing up to the United States, not colluding in a cover up.”
Mr Hague wrote a letter to Mr Miliband yesterday calling for urgent answers to a series of questions he formulated after hearing the foreign secretary’s statement.
The first draws attention to confusing responses from the Foreign Office on the supposed American threat to cut intelligence ties if the material becomes public.
Mr Hague asked how the Foreign Office could conclude the new US administration was not prepared to depart from the Bush administration’s position, given that there is no record of UK officials bringing up the matter with them.
During his Commons statement, Mr Miliband said: “I did indeed raise the case of the remaining Guantanamo detainees with British residency status when I met secretary Clinton on Tuesday”. But the statement made no mention of having discussed the specific case in question.
Furthermore, the prime minister’s spokesman said unequivocally on Wednesday that the government “have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case”.
Pressed further on Thursday morning, the spokesman confirmed: “Specifically on the issue of intelligence sharing and the issues at the centre of this particular case, as we said yesterday, we had not made any representations or engaged with the administration on the detail of this particular case.”
Mr Hague asked: “On what basis was it possible for you to conclude that the new US administration was not prepared to change its position on this issue if the issue of intelligence sharing had not been raised with Washington?”
He goes on to ask if the foreign secretary had received an advanced notice of the court’s judgement before his trip to Washington earlier in the week, or if he was aware the judgement was pending.
“Given that the issue of intelligence-sharing with the United States is vital to the national security of both the US and UK and the Court judgement was likely to attract considerable attention, why was this issue not raised with secretary Clinton, as the Downing Street spokesman’s comments imply?” Mr Hague asked.
In a separate matter, the Conservatives are intrigued by Mr Miliband’s announcement on Thursday that “Mr Mohamed will indeed be coming back to the UK”.
The announcement followed a statement by Mr Hague in which he referred to the fact the Americans did not wish to return Mr Mohammed to the UK.
“I can find no record of you or any other government minister coming to the House to inform parliament that the United States had acceded to this request,” Mr Hague said.
“Specifically, on what day did the US government accede to the request to return Mr Mohamed and Mr Aamer?” he went on to ask.
The series of questions by prominent opposition politicians indicate a desire in Westminster to not allow the government off the hook on issues which have still not been satisfactorily answered.
Human rights activists are keen to press the government on its alleged complicity in the matter, but others are increasingly angry at the somewhat contradictory answers from various government bodies about the supposed cooperation threat.