On Tuesday, the same day that the Pentagon officially filed charges against Guantánamo prisoner and British resident Binyam Mohamed, who will face a trial by Military Commission for “conspiracy” and “providing material support for terrorism,” a UK court approved his request for judicial review, requiring the British government to reveal whatever evidence it holds regarding the British security services’ knowledge of his rendition from Pakistan to Morocco for torture, and details of whatever information was also provided to his Moroccan torturers about his life in Britain.
Mr. Mohamed, 29, who sought asylum in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 to overcome a drug problem that had plagued him in the UK, and, he said, to see Muslim countries “with his own eyes.” Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, as he attempted to fly back to the UK, he spent three months in Pakistani custody, where he was interrogated by agents of the US intelligence services — and on one occasion by British agents — and was then rendered to Morocco, where proxy torturers, working on behalf of the US, tortured him horribly in brutal “interrogations,” which regularly involved cutting his penis with a razor blade.
Despite this torture, Mr. Mohamed has stated that his lowest point came when his interrogators questioned him about his life in London, and he realized that they were privy to personal details that could only have been supplied by the British intelligence services. In Guantánamo, Mr. Mohamed explained to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, “The interrogator told me, ‘We have been working with the British, and we have photos of people given to us by MI5. Do you know these?’ … To say that I was disappointed at this moment would be an understatement.”
Mr. Mohamed’s torture continued when he was flown to Afghanistan in January 2004, and held at the “Dark Prison,” a secret CIA-run prison near Kabul, which was, effectively, a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud and repetitive music and noise, pumped into the cells 24 hours a day. He was then transferred to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, where the abuse was so severe that several prisoners were killed.
Mr. Mohamed arrived at Guantánamo in September 2004, and was put forward for trial by Military Commission in November 2005. However, after one memorable appearance before a judge, when he held up a hand-written sign declaring that the Commissions were actually “Con-missions,” the entire process was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006 — although it was revived by Congress later in the year.
Last summer, the British government requested Mr. Mohamed’s return to the UK, along with four other British residents, but although three of these men were freed in December, the US administration turned down the request for the return of Mr. Mohamed, evidently because it planned to press charges against him.
Responding to the Pentagon’s announcement, Reprieve issued a press release condemning the charges and highlighting criticisms of the Commission process by senior British officials. It was noted that the British government had denounced the Commissions — the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2004 Human Rights Annual Report stated, explicitly, that they “would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial according to international standards” — and that Lord Steyn had described the trials as a “kangaroo court.”
It was also noted that the allegations against Mr. Mohamed “centred on a long-discredited ‘dirty bomb plot,’ in which US citizen Jose Padilla was meant to have planned to explode a nuclear bomb in a US city.” Reprieve added that the charges had been discredited within the Bush administration, and were dropped against Mr. Padilla, who “had the benefit of a civilian court.” It was, indeed, no less a figure than Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, in 2002, admitted that “there was not an actual plan” to set off a radioactive device in America, that Mr. Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the internet. Jose Padilla, of course, was also made to suffer horribly despite the absence of an “actual plan” — and was held in solitary confinement in a US brig for three and a half years until he apparently lost his mind — but although it was scandalous that his brutal treatment as an “enemy combatant” held without charge or trial on the US mainland was excluded from his trial last year, it was at least appropriate that all mention of the spectral bomb plot had been dropped.
Reprieve also explained the significance of Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review. The decision for this to go ahead followed a previous request for intelligence relating to Mr. Mohamed’s case, which was recently turned down by the government’s lawyers on the grounds that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted” and that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by the British lawyers who are trying to provide Mr. Mohamed with a fair trial.
Openly critical of the government lawyers’ response, Mr. Justice Saunders approved the judicial review (also demanding that the hearing be “expedited”), and explained, “If it is correct that in the course of an interrogation, in which material supplied by the Defendant [HM Government] was employed, the Claimant [Binyam Mohamed] was tortured, then it is arguable that there is an obligation to disclose material which may assist Claimant in establishing before the American Military Court that he was tortured. Whether the Court should exercise its discretion not to order disclosure can only be determined at a full hearing.”
This is, hopefully, a significant step forward in securing the return of Mr. Mohamed to the UK, where he will happily face any charges laid before him that were not obtained through the use of torture. Otherwise, as it stands at present, the US administration’s determination to press charges against Mr. Mohamed threatens only to lead to a highly visible trial, in one of the world’s most notorious prisons, in which evidence of Mr. Mohamed’s torture threatens to embarrass both the US and UK governments.
Andy is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
As published on Indymedia.
For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The betrayal of British torture victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).
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