More Afghan detainee data must be released - judge

US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay on 30 March 2010
Image caption MPs requested information about the transfer of individuals detained by UK forces in Afghanistan

The Ministry of Defence must issue more data on people held or captured by UK forces in Afghanistan, according to an administrative appeals tribunal ruling.

Mr Justice Blake said dates of detention, and dates and locations of transfers to Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else must be given.

But he said data from special forces could be withheld for security reasons.

The MoD said the ruling showed it had "grounds" to withhold most of the information requested by MPs in 2008.

The ruling concerned an appeal against a number of decisions by the Information Commissioner in relation to exemptions claimed by the MoD under the freedom of information laws.

The requests were made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.

The group was set up in December 2005 to examine allegations of the UK's involvement in extraordinary rendition - a term is used to describe the transfer of detainees from one state to another outside normal legal processes.

The group's chairman, Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, said the decision was "another step towards establishing the full extent and limits of UK involvement in rendition".

He said: "For closure on rendition we need disclosure. One way or another, the truth will eventually come out. Unless the MoD decides to appeal, this judgment will add to the drip drip of information on rendition in recent years. Far better for us to get to the bottom of this quickly, to learn the lessons and to move on."

Mr Tyrie added that he hoped the ongoing government inquiry into claims that UK security services were complicit in the torture of terror suspects would examine "in full" the transfer of detainees.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Blake said that the question raised by the MPs' request was "one of profound public importance: Whether and how the armed forces of our nation have complied with their legal obligations relating to the treatment of those detained..."

But he said the requests should be seen as being made "by concerned citizens rather than as MPs or as persons entitled to information on confidential Privy Councillor terms".

Sitting in the Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber, the judge added that as a result of the exemptions for security reasons, "we are now only concerned with the dates of detention and dates and locations of any transfers of a small number of individuals in Afghanistan, all but one of whom were detained for only a single day".

Security reasons

He went on: "The MoD's answer to the request will necessarily have to say that 'at least' a certain number were detained, since the total number cannot be given."

Mr Justice Blake said that limited aspects of the MoD's detention practices review could be released, but this did not apply to material related to specific security operations or legal professional privilege.

He stressed "the weighty nature of the public interest factors in favour of disclosure of material concerning treatment of detainees."

But he said this did not outweigh the public interest that exists in enabling the government to obtain "frank and confidential legal advice".

He added that the UK's policy on capture and transfer should not be released for security reasons.

No decision could be made on whether the MoD should release the terms of the memorandum of understanding on the subject between the UK and the United States until a further hearing was completed, he added.

Any information supplied directly or indirectly by special forces must continue to be withheld for security reasons, Mr Justice Blake ruled. This would include all information relating to Iraq and to all but a small number of individuals in Afghanistan, he said.

An MoD spokesman said: "We welcome the judgment noting that the tribunal has found that the MoD had legitimate grounds to withhold the majority of the information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.

"We will carefully consider our response to noting the tribunal's finding that a limited amount of additional information in the scope of Mr Tyrie's requests should be disclosed and that it is prepared to consider further arguments for withholding some of this information."

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