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Richard Norton-Taylor on the UK authorities’ latest abuse of the “national security” trump-card

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue for ultra-scepticism about government trump-card excuses for evading public accountability.

Recent years have seen a profusion of unverifiable claims from UK politicians about the disasters that would result from them coming clean about what they’ve been up to. These range from catastrophic breaches of “crown copyright”, “commercial confidentiality”, and “MPs privacy”, to the joker played by cornered politicians the world over, that revealing the truth would damage “national security”.

One of the most transparently bogus cases in recent months has been the revelation that the UK government withheld, for four years, a police report accusing the Foreign Office of “inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” in its handling of the notorious Julie Ward murder case.
The authorities claimed, preposterously that “national security” would be compromised if their mendacity was publicised – and have still made no apology for this additional abuse of power.

More worrying still, according to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is now urging that the government award itself sweeping new powers to suppress any news story that it chooses to regard as a threat to “national security” (for which, going on past form, we might reasonably substitute “the reputations of government ministers”).

Norton-Taylor writes that:

it is ironic that some members of the cross-party committee – chaired by former foreign office minister Kim Howells – is using “national security” in defence of their quest for new ways to curb the media precisely at a time the high court is inviting editors to oppose the government’s use of “national security” to cover up extremely serious allegations.

Two high court judges have invited the media to challenge the goverment’s claim that information relating to the mistreatment and, it is alleged, torture, of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Guantánamo Bay cannot be disclosed for reasons of “national security”.

Ministers first obtained the information from the US. Britain’s national security in this case means the American threat to stop sharing intelligence with the UK if the information is revealed.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has asked the attorney general to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA by colluding in torture. The ISC has not been told the full story of the role of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies in the Mohamed case and others involving the secret rendition of terrorist suspects by the CIA.

The parliamentary committee should regard the media not as an enemy, but as an ally in the search for the truth behind “national security” claims and as a protector of fundamental rights.

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Written by Richard Wilson

November 11, 2008 at 10:00 am

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