British ruling releases memo on ‘inhuman’ treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoner

After a lengthy legal battle, the British government was forced Wednesday to release in full a document describing what a judge called the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” meted out to a former Guantanamo Bay inmate while he was in U.S. custody.

An appeals court rejected the government’s argument that disclosing the information would harm intelligence ties between London and Washington and jeopardize national security. International news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, had sued to have the material released on public-interest grounds.

The seven paragraphs published Wednesday offer a judge’s synopsis of information passed to British intelligence from the U.S. concerning Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan and eventually sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba on suspicion of being a terrorist plotter.

Blacked out in previous court filings, the summary describes the techniques used in Mohamed’s interrogation while in U.S. custody, including “continuous sleep deprivation” and shackling during questioning. Interrogators also threatened Mohamed and played on his fears of being “disappeared.”

The regimen caused Mohamed “significant mental stress and suffering” -- enough that he had to be kept under suicide watch.

“Although it is not necessary for us to categorize the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” said the summary, which was part of an earlier court ruling.

The seven paragraphs did not address more serious torture allegations by Mohamed, who says that he was severely beaten, left in stress positions and his genitals were sliced with a scalpel during repeated interrogations after his arrest in Pakistan. His lawyers say those sessions took place under U.S. auspices, but the nationalities of the interrogators remain unclear.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, said the government would not seek to further challenge Wednesday’s ruling.

He told lawmakers in Parliament that some of the information had already been released in a U.S. court late last year, making its continued suppression in Britain unnecessary. Miliband also said the new judgment affirmed the government’s view that intelligence provided by another country could not be released without that country’s permission, suggesting that it in effect had been given by the U.S. court action.

But attorneys for the news organizations described the ruling as a rebuke to the government and a “resounding victory for freedom of speech.”

The ruling upheld a court decision in October, which concluded that “the public interest in making the paragraphs public is overwhelming” because the material could shed light on whether the U.S. and British governments engaged in or were complicit in torture.

The summary stayed unpublished while Miliband’s office lodged its appeal.

Mohamed, 31, who is of Ethiopian descent, was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, on a passport violation in 2002. He alleges that the CIA spirited him to Morocco and Afghanistan, where he said he was tortured.

Although the nationality of his interrogators has not been established, Mohamed’s lawyers say some of the questions they asked could only have come from British sources, indicating that a British intelligence agency had been complicit in his mistreatment.

At Guantanamo Bay, Mohamed was to be tried on charges that he was plotting with Al Qaeda to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the U.S. But all charges against him were dropped in October 2008, and in February 2009 he became the first Guantanamo Bay inmate to be set free by the Obama administration.