UK judges: Intelligence officer visited Morocco
LONDON — A British intelligence officer repeatedly visited Morocco at the same time that a former U.K. resident was allegedly being tortured there, two senior judges said Friday.
Supporters of Binyam Mohamed say the revelation casts doubt on the position of the U.K. spy agency, which insists it never knew he was being detained by Moroccan authorities.
Mohamed, an Ethiopian who moved to Britain as a teenager, was arrested in 2002 in Pakistan. He alleges he was subjected to sleep deprivation and had his penis sliced with a scalpel while being held in Morocco between July 2002 and January 2004, after which he was sent to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
He has said questions put to him when he was in Morocco could have only come from British intelligence agents, and he has sued the British government to reveal information on his alleged torture.
Lord Justice John Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones’ comments Friday came as part of a procedural judgment.
The judges said that an officer from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, visited Morocco in November 2002 and twice in February 2003.
Supporters of Mohamed said the visits could not have been a coincidence.
“It is now obvious that the British authorities were not telling the truth when they denied knowing that Binyam was in Morocco,” said Clive Stafford-Smith, director of legal advocacy group Reprieve. “Again the question for the police and the public must be, how far up the political ladder did this knowledge go?”
MI5, also known as the Security Service, said that despite their officer’s visit to Morocco, he did not visit Mohamed and was not aware the detainee was being held there.
“The Security Service was not aware, nor were other parts of government, about where Binyam Mohamed was being held,” said a British government security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity so he could discuss intelligence agency business.
The official said that MI5 “does not participate in, engage with, or condone torture.”
The ruling opens the possibility that witnesses could be recalled to explain the position.
Separately, London police are deciding whether there is evidence that British intelligence officials should face criminal charges over allegations that they were complicit in the alleged torture of Mohamed.
Mohamed was accused of plotting to explode a “dirty bomb” in the United States, but was freed from Guantanamo in February without charge and returned to Britain.
His lawyers launched a legal case demanding full disclosure of what Britain’s government knew about his treatment in detention.
Britain’s High Court ruled in 2008 that the lawyers should have access to documents about Mohamed— with some information redacted — but barred the public dissemination of the information.
The judges’ Friday ruling revises the earlier decision to reflect what they say is new evidence obtained in the case, a largely procedural move. It was not immediately clear how the judges had obtained the new evidence or why they had obtained it now.
Much of the legal argument in the case has centered on whether the redacted paragraphs should be disclosed. The judges are reconsidering their decision to keep the paragraphs out of public view following a lawsuit launched by several media groups, including The Associated Press.
Judges said they had reluctantly accepted the government’s claim that publication of certain paragraphs could harm U.S.-British intelligence sharing, noting that keeping the details secret amounted to concealing “evidence of serious wrongdoing by the United States.”
However, the judges did not address the issue in their ruling Friday and legal arguments on the issue continue.
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