By William Fisher
After months of denial, the British government has agreed to release secret documents that lawyers say could prove that MI5 agents were present during the CIA’s torture of a British resident held by the US government for eight years.
Shaker Aamer, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, claims he was tortured during his detention in Afghanistan and that Britain was complicit in that torture by sending agents to interview him. He says British intelligence agents were present during some of his torture.
Aamer’s lawyers went to the High Court in London to force the release of documents that they believe will help prove his case against the UK Government.
Aamer wants access to the British intelligence documents because he thinks they will help him in his fight to get out of Guantanamo.
The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has issued repeated denials that Britain engages in or condones torture.
Aamer, a 41-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and has been held at Guantanamo for close to eight years. Married to a Briton, he is considered a British resident and has indefinite leave to stay in the UK.
After resisting for four months, the British Government last week suddenly agreed to surrender the secret documents to Aamer's security-cleared lawyer in the US. Aamer says his confessions were made under duress. The US claims he is a terror suspect but has not charged him with any offence.
Previously, the Government asserted that full disclosure could jeopardize the UK security services and intelligence sharing with the US.
Aamer’s American lawyer, George Brent Mickum, IV, said his client had filed a habeas corpus petition in 2007, which was stayed by US government appeal. He was charged with being Osama bin Laden’s translator.
But Aamer was cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2007.
Mickum told IPS he might ask for a second hearing on the habeas petition but “I don’t actually know what my client has been charged with.” He said the reason is that, after Aamer’s case had its annual review, the government could have added charges or dismissed all the original charges, and we wouldn’t know about it.” The US government claims it is not obligated to inform prisoners or their attorneys.
Asked about the government’s rationale for continuing to detain a person already cleared for release, Mickum speculated that the US “finds it impossible to admit a mistake. ” He added, “The government will go to great lengths to keep torture out of the public eye.”
The UK Foreign Office has made two requests to the US for Aamer’s release, including one recent request from Foreign Secretary David Miliband. But Aamer's British lawyer told the High Court that the government’s U-turn showed the Government had not "done all it could" to secure his release.
Aamer has made a series of allegations that MI5 officers were present during the torture he suffered while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. Among other things, the 42-year-old has claimed that he was denied sleep for nine days, beaten regularly and threatened with further torture.
He has said: “One of them - a British MI5 agent - was standing and they started talking to me in different languages: English, French, Arabic and shouting. I felt someone grab my head and start beating my head into the back wall so hard that my head was bouncing. They were shouting that they would kill me or I would die.”
Aamer has written of his imprisonment in Afghanistan, “Once after a few days of sleep deprivation they took me to the interrogation room and the intelligence team starting coming one after another and the room was full, up to ten or more. One of them, a British MI5 agent, was standing and they started talking to me in different languages—English, French, Arabic—and shouting. I started shouting with them and after that I do not know what happened. All I know is that I felt someone grab my head and start beating my head into the back wall—so hard that my head was bouncing. And they were shouting that they would kill me or I would die. After this, they left the room and told to think and tell them the truth or I would die. I was threatened with rendition to Egypt, the Northern Alliance, Israel and/or Jordan to be tortured. I was very scared.”
He alleges that on another occasion he was visited by an MI5 agent called 'John' who told him there was nothing he could do to help him. Aamer says he saw another man and a female British agent calling herself Sally who asked more questions.
The Government is currently fighting a separate legal fight to avoid revealing information that is alleged to prove that MI5 knew about and profited from the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed, also a British resident, was released from Guantanamo in 2009 without charge after years of imprisonment.
In a related development, a group of British MPs is suing the CIA to get it to release information about alleged UK involvement in the secret rendition of terror suspects.
The group -- led by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie -- has filed a complaint in a district court in Washington DC seeking a judicial review of the CIA's failure to disclose information.
They are demanding to see documents on extraordinary rendition, secret detention and the coercive interrogation of suspected terrorists.
The MPs, from the All-Party Parliamentary Group, decided to launch what they believe is a landmark legal action after Freedom of Information requests in the US and UK were rejected or where information released was incomplete or heavily redacted.
Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative MP who is a member of the group said, "The current drip-drip of information on rendition is hugely damaging. To achieve closure on rendition we need disclosure. "It is in everyone's interests that the truth on the US rendition program comes to light."
The information requests were made to the CIA, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and UK government departments. It is thought to be the first time the same information has been requested in different jurisdictions under their respective freedom of information legislation.
The group has also written to President Obama calling on him to publish secret documents that allegedly contain evidence of US and British complicity in torture.
The group wants to know about :
Agreements between the US and UK on rendition - the moving of terrorist suspects from one country to another for interrogation and possible imprisonment without legal protection.
Agreements between the US and other governments on rendition and UK participation and support of US rendition and secret detention programs.
The use of Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean, to facilitate rendition, including the identity of two suspects rendered through its airspace, where they were traveling from and their destination.
Alleged terror plots, specific detainees and the transfer of detainees from UK control to US control.
The group plans to make similar requests to Australian government departments.