A British court’s decision to disclose a U.S. confirmation that the CIA subjected an Ethiopian national to enhanced interrogation will “complicate” the U.S.-British intelligence relationship, the White House warned Wednesday, but said the United States will not curtail sharing secrets with the British government.
The British appeals court on Wednesday released seven paragraphs provided by the U.S. government to Britain as part of a civil suit Binyam Mohamed was bringing against the British government.
Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, said the decision “is not helpful, and we deeply regret it.”
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the White House, said the U.S. administration is “deeply disappointed” by the court’s decision.
“As we warned, the court’s judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the U.K., and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward,” he said.
Mr. Blair said the court decision “creates additional challenges, but our two countries will remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups.”
A White House official, who asked not to be identified, said the administration was not planning any immediate “broad review”of the U.S.-British intelligence liaison relationship.
The British government argued that releasing the information could harm trans-Atlantic intelligence cooperation.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband insisted Britain “firmly opposes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the Associated Press reported. He said Mr. Mohamed’s treatment went against British principles, but was not carried out by Britain.
Mr. Miliband said the British government had fought for the information to be kept secret not because of its content but to defend the principle that intelligence shared between allies must remain confidential.
Mr. Mohamed claims in his case that the British government colluded with the U.S. in his torture and rendition from Pakistan to Morocco to a CIA interrogation site in Afghanistan and then to the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Mr. Mohamed was first arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2002 while trying to leave that country using a fake passport.
U.S. authorities at first said Mr. Mohamed was a member of al Qaeda, had trained in one of the group’s Afghanistan-based camps, and had plotted with another jailed terrorism suspect, Jose Padilla, to carry out attacks inside the United States.
The Bush administration initially filed charges against Mr. Mohamed in a military tribunal, but after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the tribunal system in June 2006, the administration never moved to re-charge him.
The Obama administration released him in February without formally charging him.
The seven paragraphs revealed by the British court do not disclose much that is new. They say Mr. Mohamed, now 31, was subjected to sleep deprivation, shackled when he was questioned and that he was threatened by his interrogators and told he would “disappear” and be sent to another country. Mr. Mohamed claims his genitals were mutilated when he was in a Moroccan prison.
The Obama administration last year released the legal memos that authorized these techniques as well as a CIA inspector general report on the application of what the government called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Ben Wizner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision. “This is an immensely significant development because the British court refused to indulge the legal fiction that confirmation in a legal proceeding of what is widely known throughout the world can somehow harm national security.”
The ACLU will file a brief in its own related civil suit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, in which the group says the company transported Mr. Mohamed to Moroccan, Afghan and U.S. prisons.
That case is awaiting an en banc ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether it can proceed. The Obama administration has asserted that hearing the case at all would disclose state secrets and should therefore be dismissed.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said he believed Mr. Mohamed was at the very least trained by al Qaeda.
“It is clear that Binyam Mohamed at a minimum was trained by al Qaeda at its al Farouk camp in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Al Farouk was the crown jewel of al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 training infrastructure. On top of that we know there is a mound of intelligence showing that Mohammed was part of al Qaeda’s post 9/11 plotting against the American homeland,”he said.
A senior Yemeni official contacted for reaction to the British court ruling said he did not think the decision would lead his country to question the U.S. government’s ability to keep secrets.
“I don’t think this case is affecting Yemen-U.S. cooperation in any way,” the official said. “The former administration did not share much information with us. It is a different game with the British and Americans. But with us, the intelligence sharing is not up to that level.”