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The end of the right hon. Gentlemans question belied the beginning of it. The end of his statement showed the absolute consistency of what I said in my representations to the Court and in the case that I have made in the House today. The issue at hand is a simple one. Highly classified information was sent
by the US, which is highly classified because of its contents, but the point at issue that I and the Court had to address is that intelligence sharing is based on a principle. It is based on the nature of the relationship that we have, and the nature of that relationship is not dependent on one cable or another, but on the fact that if another country cannot have confidence that its secrets are safe with us, it will not share its secrets with us in an open and transparent way with the relevant authorities.
In the same way, I am sure that if our secrets were disclosed in a foreign courtdare I say, in another European courtagainst our wishes, the right hon. Gentleman would be up in arms, rightly in my view, protesting against the invasion by a foreign court of our right to keep our sources secret. If he reflects on his position, and not just on mine, he will see that the inconsistency is his rather than mine.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for the strenuous efforts made by the Government on behalf of Mr. Mohamed. He mentioned several times the investigation by the Attorney-General, and she has had this case before her for the past three months. In view of the public interest in this matter, can either he or the Home Secretary contact the Attorney-General to see whether the process can be completed as quickly as possible?
David Miliband: I am sure that the Attorney-General will not have failed to notice the public interest in this case during the past 24 hours, or failed to notice the representations made by my right hon. Friend today. In case she has, I will be sure to draw them to her attention.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Following on from that question, and the two earlier ones on exactly the same point, why does not the Foreign Secretary confirm that when the Government receive the advice from the Attorney-General sought by the Home Secretary on 23 October, they will make it available to the ISC, and to the House and the public generally, given what is now the public nature of the entire process?
On that issue, incidentally, we are also waiting to hear from the Government about the recent Information Tribunal ruling against themagainon making available the then Attorney-Generals advice and the Cabinet minutes relevant to the decision on the war on Iraq. Do the Government intend to appeal on that matter to the High Court, or to apply a veto under existing freedom of information legislation?
In respect of the earlier parts of the right hon. Gentlemans remarks, it is dangerous for one non-lawyer to tell another non-lawyer about the legal situation, but he referred to advice from the Attorney-General.
That is not correct. The Attorney-General has to decide whether there is a case for prosecution, so it is a question not of whether advice should be published, but of whether steps should be taken on the basis of a decision by the Attorney-General, as the highest legal authority in the land. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman was not under any misapprehension about what I said earlier. The Governments commitment to the ISCwhich has been repaid in full by the ISC in the way in which it has treated the information that we give to itis to be full and open in our disclosures to it, and where information is of a highly sensitive nature, it is not published but the ISC do see it and scrutinise it. That must be the right way of working.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On the potentially exculpatory material to which my right hon. Friend referred, would he at least go as far as to say, in general terms, whether it included evidence of torture? If so, that would fit the pattern of the cogent evidence that the Joint Committee on Human Rights received on Tuesday afternoon about allegations of torture committed by the Pakistan security services, and the complicity of UK agents in that. Although my right hon. Friend may see no evil and hear no evil, that does not mean that the evil of torture does not exist. Would he ensure that the JCHR gets full co-operation in our inquiry into UK compliance with the requirements of the United Nations convention against torture in these matters?
David Miliband: I am sorry if my hon. Friend sees the referral of an allegation of mistreatment to the Attorney-General, the highest authority in our land, as a hear no evil, see no evil approach. The suggestion of the evil of torture is what has prompted the referral to the Attorney-General, who can then decide whether there is a case for criminal prosecution of the individuals involved. Far from this matter ending up on a shelf, the Attorney-General will decide where to take it.
My hon. Friend showed through his early comments that this area is extremely complex and one where broad-brush statements have to be chosen with great caution. I say to him that the material is highly classified and that the aspects of complicity in torture elsewhere are published in the appropriate legal documents, and I refer him back to those.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will of course be aware that Mr. Binyam Mohamed is one of, I believe, two British residents who are still left in Guantanamo Bay. There are suggestions that the other several dozen prisoners should be removed from United States soil and dispersed around welcoming countries elsewhere. Will he tell the House what the British Governments position on that is, and whether they have yet received any requests from the Obama regime?
We have not received such requests. When I spoke to the new US Secretary of State on Tuesday, I explained to her what we had done and that we expected two further former British residents to come back to the UK. In the words that I used at the European General Affairs Council last week, I explained that we had done our bit by bringing back 13 residents,
which will become 15, but that we wanted to play our part in helping other countries to fulfil their commitment to helping the US close Guantanamo Bay.
I promised my European Foreign Minister colleagues last week that we were happy to share our experience of bringing those people back, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a number of European countries have already asked for our help on that. We want to help them do it, because they recognise their need to help the Americans close Guantanamo Bay.
difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection
a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them.
The Foreign Secretary has said that he has spoken to Hillary Clinton, but is he prepared to ask President Obama personally for permission to release that information; otherwise, people in this country will continue to question the secrecy that surrounds the decision?
David Miliband: My right hon. Friend shares with the Government not just a very strong commitment to upholding human rights around the world but the belief that where there has been error, there should be openness as a way of trying to remedy it, at least in part. However, she asks in what circumstances continued secrecy is appropriate. It is when sources would be compromised by their release. It is for each country to determine the circumstances in which public release, not release to the defence counsel, would prejudice that position. That is the right and pragmatic approach to this case.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): There are several paragraphs in the judgment that are extremely important for all of us to bear in mind, particularly for the Foreign Secretary. It states that it is
difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing
into the public domain...we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress...evidence
allegations of torture...politically embarrassing though it might be.
David Miliband: I have genuine respect for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has developed an interest in, and followed in great detail, the issue of rendition over the past few years. I think that he has said that he has taken it up with some surprise, not having expected it to be so close to the centre of his work, and I have genuine respect for him on that basis. However, I refer him to the answer that I just gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in respect of the paragraph that he has cited. Also, as I said earlier, I am not going to join a lobbying campaign[Hon. Members: Why not?] Because the Obama Administration
I am not going to join a lobbying campaign for a very simple reason. The Obama Administration have made clear not just their abhorrence of torture but their determination to do everything that they can to change the image of the United States around the world in this respect. They have a choice to make about whether to release many aspects of intelligence, in the same way that we do. They will not release it if it compromises their sources, and they will certainly not accede to its release through a foreign court. That is the right approach.
The new Administration have made clear, in a way the hon. Gentleman will probably argue that the previous Administration did not, their determination to clear the name of the United States. In that context, it is right to give them the scope to make a decision about all the issues that they face, which are far from confined to this particular case. I remind the House that there are a number of outstanding legal issues in the United States system on such issues, and every case has to be seen in that context.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that for many of us, the core of the matter is simply Mr. Mohameds claim that he was cruelly tortured abroad and that British security agents knew about and colluded in what occurred. If that is soI note what the Foreign Secretary has said about the Attorney-Generals inquiriessurely the values and the rule of law of which this country and the House are so proud were betrayed. That is the seriousness of the issue, and we obviously want an answer as quickly as possible.
David Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend. These very important issues raise not just political and moral questions but judicial ones. A matter of potential criminal wrongdoing has been referred to the Attorney-General, so it is right that we allow her to come to her conclusions as quickly as possible, as my hon. Friend says.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): I recognise the Foreign Secretarys role in arguing for British residents to return to the UK, as he is well aware, and I thank him for it. However, I am very disappointed to hear him repeat that he will not join in a lobbying campaign to get allegations of torture released into the public domain. Does he not recognise that it is the job of the Foreign Secretary to argue for British interests and values abroad? He says that he is against torture, so surely he should be using every power at his disposal to ensure that allegations and evidence of torture are put into the public domain.
There is a fundamental confusion over the position of the US Government. Far from denying that they are against torture, they are celebrating the fact that they are against it and want to do everything that they can to ensure that it is expunged from the rhetoric and role of the United States. Secondly, I am sorry to have to repeat to the hon. Lady that there remains a fundamental distinction between justice for individuals and the general public interest in the public
revelation of secret information. We have to make that decision about our own information, and the US will make it about the information that it holds on the basis of whether it believes it furthers its goal of campaigning against torture, which we share.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the former US Administration were prepared to use torture to extract information from detaineesinformation that, by definition, must be unreliableyet ignored reliable information provided by one of the UKs top agents, Michael Shipster, through his long-standing source at the highest level of the Iraqi Government, that the Iraqi Government did not have weapons of mass destruction? That information also provided a credible explanation for Saddam Husseins reluctance to admit that.
David Miliband: I was with my hon. Friend for the first half of her question. The differences that existed between this Government and the previous Administration were discussed widely, specifically on whether water-boarding constituted torture. Those differences were exemplified by the position that the Government took, which I think was shared elsewhere in the House, that it did. Our position is absolutely clear: we are signed up to international conventions and covenants, never mind national laws, in that respect. I think that the Iraq question is for another day.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As one who believes that the Foreign Secretary has made a wise judgment and given the House a balanced statement, and who expects our Foreign Secretary to lead, not to lobby, may I nevertheless ask him for two assurances? First, will he make it abundantly plain that the Intelligence and Security Committee will have the 42 documents that its Chairman indicated it has not yet seen? Secondly, will he give the House an absolute undertaking that if, as a result of the Attorney-Generals investigations, it appears that any member of the British security forces has engaged in torture, that person will be brought to trial, in the hope that he or she will be punished severely?
David Miliband: Yes, in respect of the 42 documents. The Governments commitment is to work openly with the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is an important part of our system that works well in holding to account some of the most sensitive aspects of Government.
In the end, the decision about prosecution is obviously a matter for the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am sure that they will want to discharge their duties in accordance with the full and open law of the land.
Military necessity does not admit of cruelty nor of torture to extort confessions.
However, in December 2002, Donald Rumsfeld did just that by authorising interrogation techniques that clearly violated article 3 of the Geneva convention. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that nothing has so damaged the moral authority of the United States and her allies as the use of extraordinary rendition?
David Miliband: Yes. I said in a different context in the House that democratic countries are held to a higher standard than terrorist groups or others, and that those standards are in our interest. When we violate them, we seriously let ourselves down. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Abu Ghraib and other matters, he is right to suggest that that did huge damage to not only the moral standing but the political position of decent people everywhere.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary send a report of our exchanges to the United States and ask for a summary or redacted version of the documents, which would solve a particular problem? Does he regret that the Government waited till 2007 to take up the issue of British residents instead of responding to the pro bono lawyers working for the Guantanamo people, who asked them to do it rather earlier?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Until the end of 2005certainly throughout 2005the Governments focus was on bringing back the nine British citizens. We wanted to work hard to take that experience into account before moving to the separate class of issue to do with the former residents. In that context, the Home Secretary and I were presented with the work that had been done when we took office at the end of June 2007. Five weeks later, we were able to apply for their release.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): There will be some confusion in many of my constituents minds about the role of the Foreign Secretary. On intelligence sharing and the protocols that go with it, the decision rests with the United States, but that does not prevent him from making representations on behalf of this country to the United States. Surely that is the role of Foreign Secretarymaking representations on behalf of this country.
David Miliband: I can think only that the hon. Gentleman was not listening when I describedand the court describedthe Governments extensive, to use the courts word, strenuous efforts to secure the return of the individuals from Guantanamo Bay. If that does not constitute standing up for this countrys national interest, I do not know what does.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The really special bit of our special relationship with the United States is our intelligence sharing, and the Foreign Secretary is right to defend that. However, does he understand my constituents concerns that this man is not even a British national? He has taken legal proceedings against the British Government, who seem to be doing their level best to return him to the United Kingdom. Does the Foreign Secretary recognise my constituents concern that the man is creating all sorts of problems for us as a country, despite our best efforts to get him back here?
David Miliband: I prefer to stick with the fact that our positionto seek the release and return of Mr. Mohamed, as a former British residentis the right thing to do. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman cannot support us in that, even if he recognises the overall importance of the links between the US and the UK.
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