Ministers in U-turn over torture documents for Guantanamo Briton

Government agrees to surrender papers that could hold key to MI5 involvement

By Paul Cahalan,Robert Verkaik
Monday 21 December 2009 01:00

Ministers have agreed to the release of secret documents that could prove MI5 agents were present during the torture of a British resident held by the US government for eight years.

Shaker Aamer, the last detainee at Guantanamo Bay to be recognised by the UK Government, claims he was tortured during his detention in Afghanistan. He also alleges that Britain colluded in that torture by sending agents to interview him. Lawyers for Mr Aamer went to the High Court to force the release of documents which they believe will help prove his case against the UK Government.

In an important development last week the Government agreed to surrender the documents to Mr Aamer's lawyers in the US. Mr Aamer, a Saudi Arabian national and resident of Battersea, south London, who has indefinite leave to stay in the UK, said he only made confessions under duress. The US claim he is a terror suspect but has not charged him with any offence.

A fortnight ago, lawyers won a ruling in the High Court that documents the Government had sent to the US authorities should be made public.

The Government, which previously released information on the understanding it would not be shown to Mr Aamer's lawyers, had said it intended to challenge the High Court ruling by seeking to use a "public interest immunity" argument to block the release. It asserted full disclosure could jeopardise the workings of the security services and intelligence sharing with the US.

But at the beginning of proceedings on Thursday, Lord Justice Sullivan, sitting with Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, announced that "overnight" the Government had agreed that Mr Aamer's US lawyers could have access to the files. Mr Aamer's barrister, Richard Hermer QC, welcomed the development but told the court the U-turn showed the Government had not "done all it could" to secure Mr Aamer's release. He said: "The assertion that they had done everything they possibly could is incorrect. By sending documents with an express proviso they were not shown to the claimant does not match their claim."

James Eadie QC, acting for the Government, challenged that contention, saying that ministers were co- operating with the US legal process.

Mr Aamer's lawyer representing him in the US, Clive Stafford Smith, said the result was "a step forward" but was wary of the concession being used as a delaying tactic.

Outside the High Court on Thursday, Gareth Peirce, of Birnberg Peirce, the firm representing Mr Aamer in the UK, said: "He is the only British detainee left there. We are extremely worried why he is the only one not brought home."

She added that Mr Aamer's case was important in forcing the Government to make public security information.

The Foreign Office has made two requests to the US, including one recent request from Foreign Secretary David Miliband, asking for Mr Aamer's release.

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