British government defends secrecy over Guantanamo

The British government Thursday rejected calls to press the new US administration to release confidential intelligence material relating to torture allegations at Guantanamo Bay, dpa reported.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament he would not press the government of President Barack Obama to release information relating to Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held at Guantanamo.

Opposition parties, lawyers and civil rights campaigners in Britain have said the US government should release the evidence "in the public interest."

Miliband, insisting that Britain would "never condone, authorize or cooperate in torture," said that publication of highly classified material provided by the US could cause "real and significant damage" to Britain's security and harm relations with the US.

He was referring to a ruling by two British High Court judges Wednesday to withhold US evidence on the treatment of Mohamed, a 30- year-old Ethiopian who has alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay.

The judges revealed that pressure had been exerted on them not to publish relevant passages of a verdict relating to Mohamed's case.

The affair has caused uproar in Britain where civil rights campaigners have accused the US government of "bullying" and "blackmail," while opposition parties have alleged that the government was involved in a cover-up operation.

"This smacks of a cover-up unless the government comes clean," Liberal Party leader Nick Clegg said.

While the government should be able to protect some sensitive information, it was "unacceptable to conceal the circumstances around the alleged torture of this individual," said Clegg.

Pauline Neville-Jones, a former chairwoman of the government's Joint Intelligence Committee, said she hoped the US government would decide to release details of the case "in the public interest."

"When there is a suggestion of wrongdoing we do have to try to find a way through," she told the BBC.

Miliband said he had discussed Mohamed's case with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during their meeting in Washington earlier this week.

"I did indeed raise the case of the remaining Guantanamo detainees of British residency status when I met Secretary Clinton on Tuesday and I confirmed and reiterated to her that we remain determined to secure their release and return," he said.

Only the Americans could make a decision about whether to release the intelligence material, said Miliband.

"To that extent I am not going to join a lobbying campaign against the American government for this decision. It's a decision they have to make given their knowledge of the full facts in respect of the sources they depend on and the resources that they do not want to compromise."

US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington that the United States was grateful for British government commitment to protecting intelligence.

"One of the things I want to make clear is that we really thank the United Kingdom for its continued commitment to protecting sensitive national security information and to preserve our longstanding intelligence-sharing relationship," Wood said.

Mohamed, who alleges that he was tortured by US agents in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004, has said that British secret agencies were complicit in the practice.

He has been held at the US prison camp in Cuba since 2004 and alleged that he was beaten, scalded and blasted with music, and that his genitals were repeatedly sliced with a razor blade, according to British press reports Thursday.

The detainee, who came to Britain as an asylum-seeker in 1994, is one of three British residents the government has said it will accept when Guantanamo is closed.

He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 as he attempted to fly to Britain on a false British passport and later charged by the US authorities with planning a "dirty bomb" attack on a US city. The charges were later dropped.

Mohamed is reported to have been on hunger strike and "close to death," according to the Guardian Thursday.

The paper quoted Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, a US military lawyer who visited Mohamed last week, as saying: "The real worry is that he comes out in a coffin."

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