During the first Gulf War, the famed QC Geoffrey Robertson acted on behalf of the families of nine British soldiers who died as a result of US friendly fire. Then, as now, the US was extraordinarily chary of allowing any information it deemed sensitive into the public arena; then, as now, the British government and American administration say that is essential in the interests of protecting 'national security' to maintain a thick veil of secrecy. And then, as now, the 'special relationship' was threatened by entirely laudable attempts to get to the heart of the matter so that an accurate judgment could be returned.
In the end, the Coroner returned a judgment of Unlawful Killing. In a civilian context, those responsible would have served life sentences for more than criminal negligence. In a military context, however, the mere fact of war seemed to have arbitrarily suspended human rights, the rule of law and due process.
All of which will offer scant comfort to Binyam Mohammed, a young man held in Guantanamo on the suspicion of terrorism and allegedly subjected to appalling torture, including sensory deprivation and overload and lasting physical damage. Britain has claimed over and over again - despite growing evidence to the contrary, including those infamous rendition flights - that it condemns the existence of facilities such as Guantanamo and Abu Gharib. The judges asked to hear Binyam Mohammed's case are understandably furious about another nation's presumption that it can suppress our judicial process with the full cooperation of our government:
"We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials... relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it may be."
Binyam Mohammed may very well be guilty of involvement with terrorist elements; he may have considered or begun to participate actively in the plotting of extremist attacks. If that is the case, he should receive the maximum penalty that the law allows: no one individual, collective or group has the right to cause others to live in a state of perpetual fear and terror. But in order for our judiciary to determine the breadth and extent of his purported crimes - for he has not had a fair and open trial - it must know why and how he was arrested, and whether this intelligence is reliable. And this is information that America doesn't want to give, a reticence that Milliband supports fully: or they 'simply won't share information with us in future', he offers as an explanation.
Perhaps we ought not to be surprised: our government seems all too willing to sacrifice every point of national interest for the sake of winning a world-wide popularity contest. Lisbon Treaty? Yes, please! ECHRA? Sounds good: would you like the Magna Carta in exchange? Iraq War? Of course: it's the moral thing to do! China? Well, shame on your for your human rights record but really, it's more important that we sort out our finances and leave the knotty question of the 'masses' for another day. Britain seems prepared to do whatever it takes - including excusing, if not actively colluding the torture of its own citizens by that of its best friend - to be liked by all the other big boys.