Previous Section Index Home Page

Many of us have criticised the use of extraordinary rendition and the possibility that it can sometimes lead to torture in a third country. The US court ruling,
10 Feb 2010 : Column 917
which was decisive in making the Court of Appeal here change its view on publication, states unequivocally that, as a matter of fact, Binyam Mohamed was tortured over a period of two years. Do the Government now accept that statement? The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the police are currently investigating possible criminal misconduct in the case of Binyam Mohamed. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether there are additional investigations into other, parallel cases, and how many cases the Attorney-General is reviewing?

This case has come to epitomise the challenge of international terrorism and how we deal with it. However difficult that challenge is, we must be clear that winning the battle against the perpetrators of terrorism and their ideas requires moral as well as military strength. The Government must be able to assure the country and the world that a line has been drawn, that we are far more confident that allegations of complicity in torture cannot be made against the UK in future, and that all the necessary lessons of this episode have now been learnt.

David Miliband: I concur with the right hon. Gentleman that this case has come to symbolise or epitomise some of the most difficult issues raised by the terrorist campaign in the nine years since 11 September 2001. It has also come to symbolise some of the key judgments that need to be made on how to ensure that our values and security are brought together. It is absolutely the case that the shared commitment across the House against torture and in favour of meeting all of our commitments in respect of cruel or inhuman treatment is a vital part of making this a safe country-far from undermining that, our commitment goes to the heart of what we are seeking to defend.

The right hon. Gentleman queried the decision not to launch a campaign, as I called it last year, for the release of the documents in the United States. He is right that we did not launch such a campaign, although we were absolutely clear that they must be released to Mr. Mohamed's defence counsel, as indeed they were.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that the same outcome would have been achieved if we had launched a campaign and it had succeeded. That is not entirely the case, because obviously the commitments that the Court has made today about the control principle would not have been made in those circumstances, and those commitments and comments are valuable and important.

I also said to the right hon. Gentleman last year, and I stick by it today, that the United States Administration under President Obama have shown clearly their commitments in respect of anything that resembles torture or inhuman treatment. They are reviewing all the cases and they have clearly decided, so far, not to release the documents. The paragraphs released today are summaries of the US intelligence that we hold, not the actual documents, so I do not think that it would have been right for us to launch such a campaign. Apart from anything else, it would have suggested a degree of uncertainty about the commitments that the US Administration made that would not be merited.

The right hon. Gentleman asked an important question about any chilling or constraining effect that this case might be having, has had or will have on intelligence sharing. That is of grave concern to me, the Government
10 Feb 2010 : Column 918
and the whole country. I said in my statement that we would work with the US Administration, not just the State department but across all aspects of the US Government, to analyse this judgment; to understand its implications; to draw attention to the commitments that the Court makes in respect of the control principle; and also to discuss how we continue to defend that principle in the future. I am clear that it is an important job for me and for my colleagues to minimise any potential effect on the intelligence-sharing relationship, not least given the recent events that show how important it is, but it is too early to say that there will be no such effect and we need to work to ensure that that is indeed the case.

The fact that the Court of Appeal has so clearly said that it was the disclosures in a US court that led it to make its decision today that the seven paragraphs should be published is obviously a material aspect in the discussion about whether the control principle has been breached.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the judgment of facts that the US district court made. We await the US Government's view on whether those are indeed matters of fact, as they have not yet corroborated or committed to that, but we obviously recognise that, as far as the court is concerned, they have been established as a matter of fact and it is not for us to query the judgment of the US court in that respect.

One key aspect of any lessons drawn or consequences arising from this case concerns the following three allegations that have no truth at all. First is the allegation that there is no oversight of the security services in this country. That is wrong. The second allegation is that it is our policy, if not to torture or commit acts of inhuman treatment ourselves, then to be complicit in them. That is not true. It is also not true to allege that, if possible wrongdoing occurs, it is covered up. This case shows clearly, in the work of the Attorney-General and the courts, that this country is committed to upholding all its commitments, and it does so for very good reason.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and echo his support for our excellent security services and his emphasis on the importance of our close relationship with our American allies, but given that one of the most senior judges in the land has openly criticised the Foreign Secretary and his legal representatives for accusing other judges of being irresponsible, and dismissed the Government's appeal, the Foreign Secretary should have been more contrite in his statement today.

The Liberal Democrats also respect the control principle for the way in which foreign intelligence is handled, but unlike the right hon. Gentleman-and like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)-we believe that the Government had a duty to ask the American authorities at the highest level whether they would release this information. Given the gravity of the accusations and the information that has now been published, one would have thought that that was exactly the right thing to do.

I turn to the content of the seven paragraphs that the Foreign Secretary has been forced to publish today. Is it not now clear that the British authorities knew that the US was using torture techniques against Binyam Mohamed? Will the Foreign Secretary now tell the House what steps the British Government took at the time to deplore
10 Feb 2010 : Column 919
that use of torture? What steps did they take to ensure that Britain was not complicit in that torture? Will he guarantee today that at no stage in this case was Britain in breach of either our domestic or international obligations on torture?

Anyone who has followed this case closely, including the evidence given by the Security Service officer involved to the courts, will recognise that knowledge of the American use of torture did not remain within the secret service but was almost certainly passed on to the highest levels of Government. Does the Foreign Secretary know whether Ministers were told that the US was torturing Binyam Mohamed, and when? Will he now ensure that all such evidence is given to the police in charge of investigating allegations of British complicity in torture in this case?

I accept totally that the Foreign Secretary fought this case for honourable and just reasons, but will he now take another honourable step, given this and other allegations of British complicity in torture, and set up a wide-ranging judicial inquiry?

David Miliband: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the work that is done by the security and intelligence services and salutes that work, but he does himself no justice by asking questions that he knows I cannot answer, because of the legal circumstances, or by repeating as questions allegations to which he knows the answer. He asked about the case involving so-called witness B. He knows that I cannot talk about that case because it is currently in front of the courts. It is not right to seek answers to questions that could prejudice an ongoing police investigation.

The hon. Gentleman also asks whether the police have been given access to all the relevant papers, and he knows very well that all the relevant papers have been handed over to the police, because that is the basis on which the Attorney-General made her decision to ask for a police investigation.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what the effects-I think that that was the word he used-of this case would be. It depends how the debate is carried forward, but he will know from the successive reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee that significant changes have been made in the nature of the guidance that is issued to our security and intelligence service personnel and the way that policy is promulgated. As well as the generic issue, individual cases have been examined and set out by the Committee. Its recommendations have been followed and the Government have said clearly what they have done in that respect.

One outstanding issue concerns the publication of the reformed guidance in the light of the Binyam Mohamed case. That is currently sitting with the Intelligence and Security Committee, as the Prime Minister promised the House that it would, before publication.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many people listening to this debate will be surprised to hear him describe the Court ruling as a vindication, when in fact he has been forced to reveal information that he has struggled for a long time not to reveal-even when it was legally available in the US? Is he aware that
10 Feb 2010 : Column 920
it cannot be right to describe the information released today as clearing the Government of any involvement, past or present, in extraordinary rendition-and thus complicity in torture? He must be aware that, whatever is happening now under a new US Administration, there are still questions to be answered about past British involvement in extraordinary rendition and thus in torture.

David Miliband: The vindication is of the control principle, and that was made clear by the Court. The Court also makes it clear that, in the absence of the American judgment of December 2009, it would have found in favour of the Government. That is an important point.

In respect of extraordinary rendition, I do not recognise my hon. Friend's description of UK complicity-

Ms Abbott: There are questions to be answered.

David Miliband: Well, questions have been asked about extraordinary rendition in respect of Diego Garcia. My hon. Friend knows very well that two cases have emerged from studies of the American files. They were immediately publicised to the House in the appropriate way. There may have been subsequent questions, but there have also been answers to each and every one of those questions in respect of Diego Garcia. It is very important that we do not allow the impression to go abroad that there are outstanding issues in that respect-there are not.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I thank the Foreign Secretary for making this statement, because it is good that he did so? Just before he stood up earlier, The Guardian published on its website a copy of a letter from Jonathan Sumption QC, his lawyer, raising the matter that the Government are still seeking a redaction-it would appear-from the judges' rulings. I shall read the Foreign Secretary the following short extract from that long letter:

Will the Foreign Secretary comment on that?

David Miliband: I will comment on it, but it is very important that the facts are on the record, not the allegations, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to go through this. First, it is not correct to say that the Government or, more specifically, the counsel for the Government, sought redactions of the judgment. A redaction suggests that we wanted an item deleted that we accepted was true. Once our counsel had been provided with a copy of the judgment in draft, as is normal practice, he had a real concern that one paragraph set out conclusions that went beyond the evidence presented and raised prejudice in respect of the ongoing case involving witness B. He took the view that that should be brought to the attention of the judges in the case. The three judges examined that letter
10 Feb 2010 : Column 921
and decided to amend the paragraph so that it took the final form that it did; the court concluded that the concern was well founded, so it revised its paragraph in the light of it.

It is very important that we also remember that in open court today the counsel for Mr. Mohamed apologised unreservedly for releasing this private legal document-it is a normal part of legal practice that such correspondence should take place. It is also important that no suggestion is made anywhere to impugn the integrity of the judiciary in making their own judgments. What the judiciary say in a draft judgment or in a final judgment is their business, and their independence is at the heart of their final words. The words that appear today in public are those of the justices in the case, and it is their decision to release them on that basis.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In no way do I question my right hon. Friend's integrity, but is he aware that for some of us the heart of this issue is simply the question of whether British security officials knew that torture was being applied against Mr. Mohamed by the United States? If no action was taken by us and no information was given to Ministers, that is a stain on the reputation of our country and it should never happen again. It is just not good enough to say that Britain is not a party to torture. If we know that torture is being carried out by our closest ally, we have a responsibility to act, and I am afraid that in the case of Mr. Mohamed we did not do so.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend rightly says that we have responsibilities not only in respect of the conduct of our own officials, but if we come to know that torture, or cruel or inhuman treatment, is being undertaken by others with whom we work. We have a responsibility to act when we have that information and we should do so. A criminal case is being studied at the moment to see whether the actions taken were in accord with the principles that he and I share, as does the whole House. That is how the system should work and that is how it is working. For all the proper talk of lessons, I should also say that significant changes have been made since 2002 in the way in which guidance is offered to all officers, in the way in which they are trained and in the way in which the system is patrolled and policed, and that is the right approach.

Mr. Winnick: At the time?

David Miliband: In respect of what happened at the time, that information is in front of our police at the moment and if they proceed to charges, it will go in front of the courts in order to find out exactly what happened in this particular case.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): According to comments made by the great theorist of counter-insurgency, Sir Robert Thompson, more than 40 years ago, not only is prisoner abuse morally wrong, but it is lethal to any counter-insurgency campaign. I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot or does not wish to comment on the particular case that is before the courts, but in response to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) can he address the question of what representations the Government made to our American allies more generally when it became known that waterboarding was being used?

10 Feb 2010 : Column 922

David Miliband: I am very happy to say clearly that the Government, as has been detailed in successive Intelligence and Security Committee reports, did follow that up, and not just in terms of our own system and how practices were developed. I think I should set out what happened in a letter to the hon. Gentleman. It has also been documented what did not happen and what should have happened, not in respect of an individual case, but in respect of training and guidance for officials, for example. That means that we are in a much stronger position today than we were in 2001-02, and rightly so. We always keep things under review, and the publication of the current guidance, which is before the ISC, will be an important opportunity for not only the whole House, but for the whole country to see how that is taken forward.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I join the Foreign Secretary and others in congratulating the security services on their professionalism? May I also take him back to the police investigation? I wrote to the Attorney-General on behalf of the Select Committee on Home Affairs a year ago about this matter and she referred it to the police. Has this been ongoing for a whole year? If so, can we expect an update from the police as to when these investigations will conclude?

David Miliband: No-I am afraid that there is a very short answer to that. It is not for the police to provide a running commentary on their investigations; they have to continue them until they are concluded and then make a decision. I understand that when the case was before the Attorney-General, my right hon. Friend made representations for her to speed up her work. She concluded that work and it is now before the police, but I cannot give him any joy about any running commentary that the police might provide.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Foreign Secretary's statement makes it plain that in 2002, while in US custody, Mr. Binyam Mohamed was subjected to systematic maltreatment, probably amounting to torture. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House when the Government first learned of those facts? At what level in government were those facts known? What steps were taken to make urgent representations to the United States Government that this must stop? What steps were taken to prevent extraordinary rendition from being practised, to which we were a party? Was not the concealment of this document very damaging to Mr. Mohamed's claim for civil damages?

Mr. Speaker: I recognise the rhetorical technique that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was deploying but, unless my arithmetic failed me, I counted about six questions, to which one answer will suffice.

Mr. Hogg: I apologise.

Mr. Speaker: Not at all. I call the Foreign Secretary.

Next Section Index Home Page