Guantánamo: security services must be protected, says Ken Clarke
Quote:The work of Britain's security services will be permanently hidden from court hearings under plans designed to prevent a repeat of the million-pound payouts this week to Guantánamo Bay detainees.
A government green paper, which the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, yesterday told MPs would be published next summer, will contain specific proposals designed to prevent the courts from releasing the kind of information that has emerged from recent Guantánamo cases in the English courts. "It will absolutely eliminate [the possibility of] the process happening again," a well-placed Whitehall official claimed last night.
Ministers have been convinced by MI5 and MI6 that disclosing information held by the security and intelligence agencies – and notably information provided by foreign agencies such as the CIA – compromises Britain's national security.
Ministers and officials are planning a system whereby if intelligence material is relevant to a court case, it would be seen and heard in secret hearings and withheld from interested parties and their lawyers.
Clarke yesterday delivered a robust defence of the "mediated settlement" that emerged on Monday night between the government and 16 men held at the US military base on Cuba, which officials said they hoped would "draw a line" under highly damaging evidence of Britain's connivance in torture and abuse.
"The details of the settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement," he told the Commons. "They have been reported in confidence to the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee [Sir Malcolm Rifkind] and to the National Audit Office."
Clarke added: "No admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases. The alternative to any payments made would have been protracted and extremely expensive litigation in an uncertain legal environment in which the government could not be certain that it would be able to defend departments and the security and intelligence agencies without compromising national security." He said that there was a risk that public confidence was being eroded in Britain's adherence to human rights, including the rules governing the way the security and intelligence agencies work.
The cost of the case, had it continued, would have reached £30m-£50m over three to five years, he said. The settlement was welcomed by Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, and Jonathan Evans, head of MI5.
The settlement has stopped the disclosure to the high court of previously secret documents showing that former ministers, including Tony Blair and Jack Straw, were closely involved in the decision-making process that led to suspects being abducted and "rendered" to Guantánamo.
The civil suit followed a decision earlier this year by the appeal court to release CIA information held by MI5 and MI6 relating to Binyam Mohamed, the UK resident tortured before being flown to Guantánamo Bay. That decision appalled the security and intelligence agencies, which said that as a result the US had begun to stop sharing valuable information with them.
Clarke said that the mediation settlement would help pave the way for an inquiry into claims against MI5 and MI6 headed by Sir Peter Gibson – a retired appeal court judge who privately monitors some activities of the intelligence agencies in his role as the intelligence services commissioner.
The justice secretary said the inquiry would also have to await a Met police decision on whether to recommend criminal charges against an MI5 and an MI6 officer relating to allegations of unlawful treatment of detainees. The police have been investigating the case for more than a year and it is widely expected that it will advise that any prosecution would be unlikely to succeed because of the difficulty in obtaining evidence.
Asked by Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, whether Gibson would investigate further cases, Clarke replied that he was "not aware of any others" that would be examined. However, a number of men who were never sent to Guantánamo have already embarked on proceedings against the government. Many of these individuals were detained in British-led counterterrorism operations in which the US played little or no part.
They include a number of individuals who were illegally detained, allegedly tortured and then questioned by British intelligence officers in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Lawyers representing men detained in Egypt and Syria say there may be an arguable case against the British government. Further proceedings are being brought by lawyers representing a man handed to US forces and rendered to Afghanistan. A British businessman detained and allegedly tortured in Dubai after the July 2005 attacks on the London transport network is also contemplating proceedings against the government.
Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said yesterday that members of the ISC committee should be appointed by parliament rather than the prime minister. It should also question MI5 and MI6 on operational matters, he told a Royal United Services Institute conference on intelligence oversight.
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