Britain Unveils New Sections of a Secret Report about Bahrain

2015-06-02 - 8:44 م

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The British government officially released yesterday (May 29, 2015) retained sections of a report about Bahrain that dates back to 1977 due to a court order, that supported not publishing the whole document, but ruled that the remaining details be disclosed.

While Marc Owen Jones, the academic who brought the case against the British government to unveil the whole report, is still studying the additional published sections, preliminary research revealed that some decisions of former head of the Bahraini General Directorate for State Security Investigations, British officer, Ian Henderson, were bypassed, for he was prevented from arresting a group of politicians whom Jones thinks are Bahraini Sunni members of the leftist movements that were the main parties leading the opposition front at that time.

The document reported Henderson stating that the Al Khalifa ruling family considered it politically impossible to arrest this number of people (20) and that the Minister of Interior was not prepared to adopt a hardline approach against them.

In one of the written comments in the document, an official, whose identity is still unknown until today, said: "When I left Bahrain in 1956 I would not have put money on the Al Khalifa still being around 20 years later. I agree that this is a very disturbing state of affairs," referring to the affairs that Henderson talked about.

Reuters considered that the previously published section of the document expresses a gloomy view about the future of the Al Khalifa rule in Bahrain. "What surprised me in our conversation was the gloomy view Henderson took of the ability of the Al Khalifa to survive," the official wrote. Reuters further stated that the decades-old diplomatic cable on Bahrain has exposed a thorny link between the UK's colonial past and its new military ambitions in a region it once dominated.

Bahraini authorities; however, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Secret Document

As the king of the Gulf state came to Britain to attend the prestigious Royal Windsor Horse Show, a sign of continuing warm relations between the UK and Bahrain, international media outlets reported the latest news about the case brought by the author and academic Marc Owen Jones against the UK government in the Information Rights Tribunal that obligated it to disclose the contents of cable from 1977 containing confidential correspondences that could shed light on Britain's relationship with the authoritarian regime in Bahrain at that time.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has already released retained sections of a report entitled "Bahrain: Internal Political Situation 1977", upon a request submitted by Marc Jones pursuant to Freedom of Information Act. Meanwhile, the rest of the typewritten paragraph is heavily blacked out.

The document in question concerns the internal security situation in Bahrain, containing the communications between Henderson himself and David Tatham, an official in the Middle Middle East Department of the FCO, and his superiors in the ministry as it seems. The file contains a documented conversation between Tatham and the British military officer dubbed the Butcher of Bahrain "Ian Henderson", who headed the general security and State Investigations Department (the intelligence).

The Tribunal Ruling

After several sessions, the UK tribunal ordered on April 29, 2015, that more sections of the documents be exposed and not the entire document in a period that does not exceed a month (the period ended on May 30, 2015), supporting the UK government's claim that the disclosure of the whole document would damage UK-Bahraini relations.

In its decision, the court specified sections to be released. One day prior to the deadline, (May 29, 2015), the UK government responded to the court's order and republished the document unveiling the parts specified by the court. However, these disclosed sections were only a few lines that were handwritten and few more lines in the report's third part; which Marc Jones considered a joke after a lengthy, costly tribunal.

The Previously Disclosed Sections

The paragraphs taken from the document, which were allowed to be disclosed by the FCO, report Tatham saying: "I met Brigadier Ian Henderson the Head of the Bahrain Special Branch. Henderson said he hoped to leave Bahrain within six months, but there were problems. He believed that if he went the Commander of Police, Mr Bell, and the nine British Special Branch officers (I had no idea there were so many) would also leave. His personal relations with the ruler and other responsible Bahrainis would be soured however tactfully he gave his notice," as stated in the correspondence.

Strangely enough, Tatham highlighted that he had no idea that there were many British officers in Bahrain at that time.

He also reported that Henderson "thought the effort effect on the efficiency of the security apparatus generally would be severe. At present he and Mr. Bell were trying hard to keep up standards but a general sloppiness was creeping in," while the other parts of this section were omitted.

Tatham further stated that what surprised him in his conversation with Henderson was his "gloomy view he took of the ability of the Al Khalifa to survive". The rest of this selection was also concealed. Tatham continued that Al Khalifa "were moving into lucrative areas of business and squeezing out established merchants."

The New Sections

وثيقة 8

The UK government published yesterday (Friday, May 29, 2015) the other sections the tribunal ordered to be unveiled.

Among the handwritten sections on top part of the document, there were signatures of two different people who are not known yet. According to the handwritten words, that were very difficult to be read, the first person says, "So do I, from taking into account that Henderson has been saying that (and ?) twice a year since 1967." While, the other person says, "When I left Bahrain in 1956 I would not have put money on the Al Khalifa still being around 20 years later - but here they still are. All the same a notwithstanding, I agree that this is a very disturbing state of affairs. "

The document also revealed only a part of the complement of the third section that ended with Tatham saying that Henderson "thought the effort effect on the efficiency of the security apparatus generally would be severe. At present he and Mr. Bell were trying hard to keep up standards but a general sloppiness was creeping in."

The disclosed part of states that: "His minister was not prepared to take a strong line and there were no ten or twenty people at large who should be detained. Unfortunately there was an approximate limit (of about forty) on the number of people whom the Al Khalifa considered politically possible to keep inside. Hence the need for frequent amnesties in order to make room for more detainees."

Contrary to what have been mentioned, the fourth section, in which Tahtam talked about Henderson's gloomy view regarding the ability of Al Khalifa to survive, remained hidden. Moreover, the entire fifth section of the correspondence remained suppressed.

The British Government Justifies

The Tribunal affirmed that it relied on confidential evidences including the whole copy of the document in question that the judge has looked on and an unredacted version of the written witness statement of Mr Oakden. (The appellant Mark Owen Jones could not have a look at any of them).

Upon looking into the suppressed document and the confidential information it includes, the tribunal has concluded that some additional material can be released. The tribunal added that "It can understand why he, and anyone reading this decision, should question why information recorded from a meeting with the British head of the Bahrain Special Branch - Brigadier Ian Henderson - and a senior British FCO official as long ago as 1 December 1977 should remain sufficiently sensitive in terms of this country's international relations with Bahrain as to continue to be undisclosable because the public interest requires this."

"Nearly 40 years have elapsed, there is some information publicly available about the human rights issues and history involved and the question must inevitably be asked "what is so special or potent about what remains redacted that it cannot be disclosed?" The short answer is that what remains redacted is fairly and squarely information which attracts the operation and engagement of section 27 FOIA because it could damage the United Kingdom's relations with Bahrain and, if revealed, would or would be likely to prejudice international relations," it further stated.

A Disappointment

In a report it published Sunday, May 17, 2015, The Independent indicated that the ruling issued by the information tribunal has "disappointed campaigners".

Marc Owen Jones claimed the limited release of information ordered by the court is a "partial victory" but that the Government was using "bureaucratic repression" to stop scrutiny of Britain's historic role in Bahrain, according to the Independent.

"The result is essentially a façade of transparency that allows the British Government to shield its allies from proper scrutiny," Jones stated.

The Information Rights Tribunal heard secret evidence for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from a senior diplomat, Edward Oakden, who implied that "the release of such information could jeopardize Britain's new military base in the country."

Jones has challenged the ruling, stating that considering that the disclosure of a record of correspondences that occurred 38 years ago, with one of its participants having passed away, may jeopardize the UK-Bahraini long-term and close relations that lasted for decades, is very absurd.

He highlighted in an article that the case cost both in terms of money and time saying: "This bureaucratic control is essentially a process of attrition, a series of obstacles designed to discourage people from breaching the government's asymmetry of information."

Jones also stressed that indeed, the FCO have denied at least two thirds of the 21 information requests I have sent them the earliest being from 1956.

Meanwhile, one the documents was partly released, three were completely released and another three are still waiting the public interest test.

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