Moonbattery can be fatal. For one thing, it can make otherwise sane reporters write articles suggesting that George W. Bush was president in 1998 (thank goodness for all those layers of editors!). For another, it can lead otherwise strong allies like the UK to place more emphasis on the human rights of a monster like Osama bin Laden than on the rights of his intended victims.

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely. The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament’s intelligence and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees to places where they may be tortured.

If there was ever a case for torture, it’s Osama bin Laden. As head of the al Qaeda terrorist enterprise, bin Laden would be in a position to know everything that was going on and who was involved, where they were, how they were being financed — everything. Bin Laden is the “ticking bomb” scenario writ large. By 1998, al Qaeda had already struck the World Trade Center in New York (1993) and Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (1996). Plans underway at that time included US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (August 1998) and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (2000). Khalid Sheik Mohammed proposed the 9-11 attacks in 1999, with planning beginning in 2000, but he had been part of the failed Operation Bojinka plot in 1995. Bojinka was a precursor to 9-11; KSM was a bin Laden lieutenant. Aggressive interrogation of a captured bin Laden would have led to KSM and probably the unraveling of the entire operational side of al Qaeda. That in turn would probably have prevented 9-11.

Yet the Brits were concerned that bin Laden not be tortured if caught and tried to stipulate their assistance to us based on that thinking. They even wrote a letter to him when he was in Sudan in 1996 which raises an interesting possibility: Did bin Laden try to get to Londonistan in the 90s?

In January 1996 the Home Office wrote to him when he was in Sudan. The letter, seen by the Guardian, advised him that Michael Howard, then home secretary, had “given his personal direction that you be excluded from the United Kingdom on the grounds that your presence…would not be conducive to the public good.”

At least our cousins got that much right. But what would it say about the UK’s immigration policies if bin Laden thought for even a second that he might be given a visa to emigrate there?

More: About this possible emigration letter — by 1996 bin Laden was already an internationally known terrorist. If he really did seek a legal path to Londonistan, and the British turned him down rather than, say, grant his request and then grab him once he actually showed up…? If that’s the way this played out, stupidity can be as fatal as moonbattery.

We need some background on why the British Home Secretary wrote that 1996 letter to Osama bin Laden.