In the wake of Barack Obama’s election, the extent to which he has continued many Bush administration counterterrorism policies has surprised many, especially when looking not only at the continuation and expansion of tactics such as drone strikes, but also at the degree to which the administration has used tools such as the state secrets privilege to justify keeping many Bush administration practices out of the public eye.
An interesting foil to this is a lawsuit currently underway in the United Kingdom, where six former Guantanamo bay detainees have sued the government, and forced the release of a trove of documents, with the potential for hundreds of thousands more, dealing with government complicity in their rendition and abuse. The British press has been particularly aggressive in covering this process, and I just want to point quickly to an interesting passage from a recent Guardian article on the stance British courts and the new British government have taken when dealing with sensitive material related to terrorism:
The government has been responding to disclosure requests by maintaining that it has identified up to 500,000 documents that may be relevant, and says it has deployed 60 lawyers to scrutinise them, a process that it suggests could take until the end of the decade. It has failed to hand over many of the documents that the men’s lawyers have asked for, and on Friday failed to meet a deadline imposed by the high court for the disclosure of the secret interrogation policy that governed MI5 and MI6 officers between 2004 and earlier this year.
So far just 900 papers have been disclosed, and these have included batches of press cuttings and copies of government reports that were published several years ago. However, a number of highly revealing documents are among the released papers, as well as fragments of heavily censored emails, memos and policy documents.
Some are difficult to decipher, but together they paint a picture of a government that was determined not only to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States as it embarked upon its programme of “extraordinary rendition” and torture of terrorism suspects in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but to actively participate in that programme.
In May, after the appeal court dismissed attempts to suppress evidence of complicity in their mistreatment, the government indicated that it would attempt to settle out of court.
Today the government failed in an attempt to bring a temporary halt to the proceedings that have resulted in the disclosure of the documents. Its lawyers argued that the case should be delayed while attempts were made to mediate with the six men, in the hope that their claims could be withdrawn in advance of the judicial inquiry. Lawyers for the former Guant