WASHINGTON – October 17 – George W Bush’s former Under-Secretary for Homeland Security has dismissed claims advanced by lawyers for the UK Government that hearing cases brought by torture victims in the British courts may damage US-UK intelligence-sharing.
In the best known of these cases, Gaddafi opponent Abdulhakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar are taking the Government, MI6 and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to court next week over their alleged role in their kidnap and ‘rendition’ to Libya in 2004, where Mr Belhaj was tortured. Mr Straw was Foreign Secretary, with responsibility for MI6, at the time.
Lawyers for the UK Government have claimed that the case should not proceed as it would damage UK-US relations and the US’ willingness to share intelligence with the UK. However, asked today by Reprieve’s Strategic Director, Cori Crider, whether he agreed with UK ministers’ claim that rendition and torture cases cannot be tried in Britain without endangering the intelligence-sharing relationship with the US, Asa Hutchinson, who also headed the Drugs Enforcement Administration under Bush, said “no.”
Mr Hutchinson was speaking at the UK launch of a report on ‘Detainee Treatment’ produced by a panel of former security officials, military figures, and senior US politicians. He was joined by former US Ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering, also a member of the panel, who agreed with his view on the UK Government’s claims. Ambassador Pickering stated that the information being shared and the partnership between the US and UK were “too important” and that, as a result, “of course” the information would be shared.
Ambassador Pickering also criticised the recently-passed Justice and Security Act, which rolls out secret courts known as Closed Material Procedures across the civil justice system in Britain, arguing that it seems it will lead to “more secrecy, not less.”
On Shaker Aamer, the British resident detained at Guantanamo Bay despite having been cleared for release, he said that “The US should immediately release Aamer or give reasons for his continued detention.”
Commenting, Cori Crider said: “When a Bush-era senior security official and a former US ambassador both dismiss the UK Government’s claims on why torture cases should not come before the court, it becomes clear that ministers do not have a leg to stand on. Government lawyers are trotting out the same tired old line to try to avoid accountability: that it will harm national security, and the US will stop sharing intelligence with us. Under-Secretary Hutchinson’s and Ambassador Pickering’s comments show that this claim is nonsense.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / email@example.com. uk