LONDON — Seven former Guantanamo Bay detainees asked the High Court in London on Tuesday to reject a government request to use secret sessions to hear allegations that Britain was complicit in their torture overseas.
Britain's government and intelligence agencies want parts of a claim for damages filed by the detainees to be heard in private, and to restrict their lawyers' access to documents that the attorneys say may prove whether Britain was aware of the detainees' mistreatment.
The seven men allege they were tortured or abused at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at detention centers in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Morocco.
Their lawyers say the men are suing Britain for its alleged collusion in their torture, and that some of the ex-detainees have attempted to file lawsuits in the United States.
Britain denies that it colluded in torture overseas, and insists it fought to win the release of the men from Guantanamo and checked on their welfare there.
"These are very serious allegations which we deny. We will vigorously defend our case in court," Britain's government said in a statement.
Government lawyers argue they cannot publicly disclose some of around 20,000 secret documents in the case because of the risk of jeopardizing national security or damaging relations with international allies.
Lawyers for the detainees told the court that secret evidence and closed hearings had never been used before to defend a civil claim for damages.
"It is chilling that the idea of secret hearings in a civil damages claim has arisen," the detainees' lawyers said in a written submission to the High Court.
Government attorneys suggest that specially appointed advocates could examine secret material on behalf of the detainees, a practice used in some immigration and terrorism cases heard at tribunals outside the regular court system.
Lawyers for the detainees have demanded that the British government holds public hearings and hand over documents – including files kept on the men and reports drafted during visits to assess their health at Guantanamo and other detention facilities.
A total of 14 detainees have returned to Britain from Guantanamo, and the government has offered to accept a former British resident still being held there. Officials say Britain has had access to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo to check on detainees' health virtually since it opened in 2002.
Britain has acknowledged since 2002 that soldiers and MI5 and MI6 intelligence officers have interviewed dozens of suspected terrorists held overseas. Security officials say the interviews have helped thwart major terrorist attacks, and insist concerns about the detainees being mistreated were passed to relevant authorities.
However, London police are investigating two cases of alleged misconduct by MI5 and MI6 officers in relation to suspects held overseas.
One case relates to Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who moved to Britain as a teenager and claims he was tortured in Pakistan and Morocco. He insists that Britain was aware of his mistreatment and is among the seven men suing for damages.
In a separate court case, Mohamed is pressing for Britain to release a seven-paragraph summary of U.S. intelligence files on his detention – a document he claims proves Britain's complicity in his mistreatment.
Britain's Foreign Office is appealing a court ruling that it must release the details on Mohamed's detention, arguing it could damage Britain's intelligence sharing with the United States.
The other six ex-detainees in the case are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga.
The hearing is expected to last three days.