British government loses torture secrecy appeal

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A British court rejected Tuesday a government attempt to use secret evidence to defend alleged conspiracy in torture, in a ruling welcomed by former Guantanamo Bay inmates.

Three Court of Appeal judges ruled that secret evidence cannot be used in civil proceedings brought by six ex-detainees of the notorious US prison camp, including high-profile former British resident Binyam Mohamed.

"We applaud the Court of Appeal's excellent decision to keep our courts open, so that the British public may continue to see justice done in their name," said Clive Stafford Smith, head of legal charity Reprieve.

Sapna Malik of lawyers Leigh Day and Co added that he was "delighted that the Court of Appeal has fully accepted... that the government has been seeking to introduce, via the backdoor, unconstitutional and manifestly unfair measures."

Mohamed and five other former prisoners -- Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes and Martin Mubanga -- are seeking damages from British authorities.

They deny involvement in terrorism, and claim Britain's MI5 and MI6 intelligence services aided their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition to various locations including Guantanamo, where they say they suffered torture.

Ethiopian-born Mohamed, 31, became the first prisoner to be released from Guantanamo under US President Barack Obama's administration when he was returned to Britain in February last year.

He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 while trying to return to Britain and spent nearly seven years in US custody or in countries taking part in the US-run rendition programme of terror suspects.

Since the ruling in the Mohamed case, British newspapers on both the right and the left have accused the government of seeking to cover up its involvement in the torture of terrorism suspects.

Britain's rights watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, called in February for an urgent independent probe into claims that security services were complicit in the torture of more than 20 terror suspects.

© 2010 AFP

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