Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lies, misdeeds and mistrust - the MI5 achievment

The British Government has shot itself in the foot again. Not only that, but MI5 has been shown to be a lying, deceitful and untrustworthy organization which demeans the democracy that it claims to serve.

1) Determined and lengthy British Government legal initiatives have failed to stop the courts allowing publication of a seven paragraph summary prepared by the Americans that proves that MI5 knew that a UK resident called Binyam Mohamed was being tortured by the Americans and their associates and continued to interrogate him in that knowledge, in clear breach of international obligations and of a government ruling dating from 1972.

2) In an attempt to water down a judicial ruling that criticised MI5 and its behaviour, the lawyer acting on behalf of the government wrote to the courts and asked the court not to publish the following allegations which form a summary of just what the judge thought that MI5 gets up to:

"The Master of the Rolls' observations .... will read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques ..... (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee (of the House of Commons) on this point ...."

The lawyer continues:

"The Master of the Rolls' observations .... constitute an exceptionally damaging criticism of the good faith of the Security Service as a whole. In particular, the suggestion that the Court should distrust any UK government assurance based on the Service's advice ....."

Full details are in reports in the Guardian and other newspapers today.

It is likely that the full text of the Master of the Rolls' observations will become public shortly and I look forward to reading paragraph 168 of the Master's judgement in full and gory detail and adding its text to this post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lord Bingham on Liberty and its diminution

Lord Bingham, Baron Bingham of Cornhill, was Lord Chief Justice and the Senior Law Lord, before his retirement in 2008.

These extracts are from an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, 8th. February, 2010.

Bingham is .... forthright on the way in which the government is using the threat of terrorism to erode fundamental freedoms. He quotes with approval Benjamin Franklin's dictum that "he who would put security before liberty deserves neither"

Bingham believes we are getting the delicate balance between liberty and security wrong. "Liberty is losing out at the moment. Extraordinary inroads are being made into principles that would once have been regarded as completely inviolate, such as the growing practice of putting material before some decision-making tribunal or judge that the defendant never sees." He worries that the culture of the law, and indeed society, is changing. "When I talk to the young, I'm struck by how, even when they have impeccably liberal instincts on things like torture and the death penalty, they tend to make an exception for terrorists. They've grown up in a world post-9/11 in which terrorism has been seen as this colossally potent threat." The danger is real, but so is the threat to hard-won liberties.

Just before we met, the story that the police were considering the use of unmanned drones had been in the press. He is not a fan. "We are already plotted almost every single inch of our lives. I have a rather bolshie approach to this. Why is it necessary? I was going through customs at Heathrow the other day, presented a perfectly innocent British passport, the lady takes it and puts it into a machine to photograph it. I said to her, 'What –happens to the photograph you've just made?' She said, 'You're not allowed to know.' Why should the citizen not be allowed to know? We have a very noble tradition, and have to battle to protect our rights."