Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice

10.11.08

Binyam MohamedThe case of Binyam Mohamed just gets weirder and weirder. For the last six months, the British resident and Guantánamo prisoner, who was seized in Pakistan in April 2002, has been engaged in a transatlantic struggle to secure evidence relating to his “extraordinary rendition” and torture, by or on behalf of the CIA, which involved his disappearance from July 2002 until his arrival at the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May 2004. Since September 2004, Mohamed has been held at Guantánamo, and in conversation with his lawyers has explained that he was sent to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months, and then spent another four months in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul.

In June, a judicial review was triggered after the Treasury Solicitors turned down a request from Mohamed’s lawyers to release documents in the British government’s possession regarding his illegal detention in Pakistan and his subsequent disappearance. The lawyers pointed out that Mohamed was about to be put forward for a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo (the system of “terror trials” conceived by the US administration in November 2001, and derided by Lord Steyn as a “kangaroo court”), and stated that the information was essential to his defence for two reasons: firstly, because the US government had refused to provide any information whatsoever about his whereabouts from July 2002 to May 2004; and secondly, because Mohamed claimed that the charges against him — primarily in connection with an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city — had been extracted, during this period, through the use of torture.

The judicial review took place in July, and Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones were clearly appalled by the behaviour of the British intelligence services. When they delivered a judgment at the end of August, they criticized the intelligence services for sending agents to interrogate Mohamed in May 2002, while he was being held illegally in Pakistan, and also for providing and receiving intelligence about him from July 2002 until February 2003, when they knew that he was being held incommunicado, and should not have been involved without receiving cast-iron assurances about his welfare. In the judgment, they stated explicitly that, “by seeking to interview BM [Mohamed] in the circumstances found and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

The judges also seized on an admission, made on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, that Mohamed had “established an arguable case” that, until his transfer to Guantánamo, “he was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by or on behalf of the United States,” and was also “subject to torture during such detention by or on behalf of the United States,” and ruled that, because the information obtained from Mohamed was “sought to be used as a confession in a trial where the charges … are very serious and may carry the death penalty,” and that it is “a long-standing principle of the common law that confessions obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used as evidence in any trial,” the British government was required to hand over the evidence — 42 documents in total — to his lawyers.

This was a remarkable result, but celebrations on the part of Mohamed’s lawyers and human rights groups were soon muted when the government responded to the only lifeline extended by the judges — that national security concerns might override the necessity for disclosure — by filing a Public Interest Immunity certificate which stated, in so many words, that the need to preserve the “special relationship” between the American and British intelligence services trumped the right of a man rendered to torture by one country — and with the complicity, to some extent at least, of the other — to have access to evidence that might help in his defence.

While this led to a temporary stalemate in the UK, Mohamed’s case then came up before a District Court judge in the United States, as part of a number of long-delayed habeas corpus claims, based on the 800-year old English law preventing arbitrary imprisonment. These had first been filed after the US Supreme Court granted the prisoners statutory habeas rights in June 2004, but had been blocked after Congress passed new laws in 2005 and 2006, and it was not until June this year, when the Supreme Court ruled again on the prisoners’ rights and granted them constitutional habeas corpus rights, that the cases were allowed to proceed.

As part of Mohamed’s habeas review, the American government was finally required to make the 42 documents provided by the British government available to his lawyers, but when the day of disclosure arrived, the Justice Department released only seven of the 42 documents — apparently so heavily redacted as to be useless — and then dropped the “dirty bomb” plot claim without explanation.

This was announced on October 15, and six days later Mohamed’s proposed trial by Military Commission was also dropped, although for different reasons. His prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, had resigned in September, complaining noisily that he had gone from being a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived” by the trials, when he discovered that evidence vital to the defence had been deliberately withheld. The Pentagon was clearly terrified that he would make further disturbing revelations in Mohamed’s case, and the cases of four other men whose trials were also abandoned, although, bizarrely, Mohamed’s military lawyer, Col. Yvonne Bradley, was told that the charges would be reinstated within 30 days.

The reverberations from these developments soon spread back across the Atlantic. After another High Court hearing, the British judges delivered a judgment on October 23 in which, while still begrudgingly respecting the government’s security claims in Mohamed’s case, they were more openly critical of the US government’s behaviour than they had been in August, when observers were required to read carefully between the lines.

Noting that the court “could see no rational basis for the refusal by the US government to provide the documents” to Mohamed’s lawyers, and adding that, after being given “ample time” to provide them, no explanation had been provided by the US government for its refusal to comply with an agreement reached between the High Court and the US administration, Lord Justice Thomas again refused to order disclosure, observing that “challenges made to the conduct of the United States Government and the legality of its actions should, save in the most exceptional circumstances, be determined by the judiciary of the United States,” and trusting that Judge Emmet Sullivan, the judge in Mohamed’s habeas case, was better placed to make a decision at the next habeas meeting on October 30.

However, he made it clear that, if a satisfactory conclusion was not forthcoming, the High Court would reconvene to order disclosure, and, after noting that the court regarded as significant the submission by Dinah Rose QC, one of Mohamed’s lawyers, that the US government “is deliberately seeking to avoid disclosure of the 42 documents,” he concluded, ominously, by stating, “We must record that we have found the events set out in this judgment deeply disturbing. This matter must be brought to a just conclusion as soon as possible, given the delays and unexplained changes of course which have taken place on the part of the United States Government.”

What was also noticeable, to those who were studying the case closely, was that the judges were barely able to conceal their regard for the significance of the 42 secret documents, which they had been able to scrutinize over the summer during an extraordinarily detailed cross-examination of one of the agents who had visited Mohamed while he was under US supervision in a Pakistani jail in May 2002.

The judges noted that it was the information contained in the 42 documents that persuaded them that disclosure to Mohamed’s lawyers was “essential” if Mohamed was to have his case “fairly considered” by  Susan Crawford, the “Convening Authority” overseeing the Guantánamo trials. They pointed out that they had only been able to make public some of their reasons for making this ruling — with the rest contained in a 33-page closed judgment — but that these at least made clear the “critical point” that the documents provided “the only support independent of BM in some material particulars for his general account of events that led to his confessions.”

Later in the judgment, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd-Jones revealed more about the information contained in the documents, noting that their closed judgment set out the passages that they considered “relevant to the allegation made by BM that his confessions had been the result of conduct that amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” They added that they “came to the view that the documents were relevant to all the charges made” — not just the “dirty bomb” plot, but other “allegations of participating in the war in Afghanistan and associating with al-Qaeda” — and criticized the US government for only revealing seven of the documents in heavily redacted form.

Explaining that they had “considered with the assistance of counsel in closed session whether the decision to provide only seven can be explained on the basis that only seven documents provide exculpatory evidence that supports BM’s account,” they stated that they were “satisfied that that cannot be so,” and, moreover, that “all the documents need to be read in sequence to see the proper context,” and they added, “As the United Kingdom Government has made clear since the time the documents were found and sent to the United States Government in June 2008, all are relevant and potentially exculpatory.”

What happened next came as a shock to everyone, but served to emphasize the significance of the allegations that CIA agents had been involved in the torture of Mohamed, and that the British intelligence services were at least partly complicit. On October 30, it was announced that the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had officially asked the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA in Mohamed’s case. The announcement came on the same day that, in another hearing about Mohamed’s habeas review, the Justice Department finally turned over the remaining 35 documents to his lawyers, in a tense session for the US administration in which Judge Sullivan pointedly “asked why, after more than six years, the government had stepped away from its claims about a dirty bomb plot,” and stated, “That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true.”

Although Andrew Warden, a Justice Department lawyer, responded to a question from Judge Sullivan as to “whether the government stood behind its assertion of a dirty bomb plot,” by stating, “The short answer is yes,” the long answer is that it has been public knowledge since June 2002 that the plot never even existed. Speaking in June 2002, shortly after Mohamed’s alleged co-conspirator Jose Padilla was seized at a US airport, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy to US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, admitted that “there was not an actual plan” to set off a “dirty bomb” in America, that Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the internet.

It took another three and a half years for the allegations to be dropped against Padilla, who was held as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland, in isolation so severe that it amounted to torture, before being tried and convicted on lesser — and largely spurious — charges of providing material support for terrorism, but Andrew Warden’s words show that, six and a half years after Wolfowitz’s admission, the Justice Department and the Pentagon are still furiously engaged in a blinkered denial of reality.

In spite of this, however, the crucial evidence establishing that Mohamed was tortured into making false confessions remains hidden to the public, awaiting either a decision by Judge Sullivan to dismiss his case, leading to his release from Guantánamo (as requested by the British government 15 months ago), or a decision by the Defense Department to reinstate his trial by Military Commission.

Unless, that is, the British judges insist that public disclosure is in the interests of justice. On November 5, in what the Daily Telegraph described as a move that is “believed to be legally unprecedented,” Lord Justice Thomas wrote to the Press Association inviting “written submissions from the media” about whether or not the court should make available a “summary of the circumstances of BM’s detention in Pakistan and the treatment accorded to him,” — consisting of “seven very short paragraphs amounting to about 25 lines” — which had been cut from the High Court’s August ruling at the government’s request.

Lord Justice Thomas noted that “the issue is one of considerable importance in the context of open justice,” referred to the Home Secretary’s decision to ask the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA in Mohamed’s case, and also drew on advice provided by two Special Advocates, Thomas de la Mare and Martin Goudie, who had represented Mohamed during the court’s closed sessions, when confidential material was being discussed. In September, the judges noted that, in the opinion of the Special Advocates, the government’s Public Interest Immunity Certificate “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM, the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” and in his request for submissions from the media, Lord Justice Thomas again referred to the Special Advocates’ advice, noting that:

The Special Advocates contended that no claim to public interest immunity could lie [i.e. be allowed] in respect of information which pointed to the commission of serious criminal offences, particularly those contrary to the rule of jus cogens in international law [fundamental principles, including a ban on the use of torture, from which no derogation is ever permitted]. The Defendant [the British government] accepted for the purposes of that argument, and subject to substantial caveats, that there was an arguable case of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Further, given the fluid boundary between cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, the Defendant did not wish to contend that on the limited information available a concluded view could be reached that there was not torture. Accordingly, the Court considered this issue on the basis that the material arguably disclosed cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture.

Lord Justice Thomas stated that those wishing to make submissions should notify the Court of their intention to do so by no later than Friday November 14, and must provide submissions by Monday December 1. He explained that the parties and the Special Advocates would then be given two weeks to reply to the submissions, and that the Court would then consider its judgment.

Submissions should be made to: Mrs. Jean Curtin, Clerk to Lord Justice Thomas, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2 or by email to: Jean Curtin.

Andy Worthington 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 in the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Antiwar.com, ukwatch.net, CounterPunch and ZNet.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

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: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges (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), 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).

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was published, I received the following message:

    Andy,

    Thanks for trying to look after one of your own.

    Regretfully, I think it is a lost cause since so many other lives are lost & tortured in the mayhem associated with dealing in the adulterated legal-system promulgated by the USA … I’m sick to my stomach with adulterated Constitutional Human Rights.

    Your research, definition & benchmarks are meticulous.

    George, Dick & Donald should all be shot or hanged from the highest tree for war crimes, openly violating the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States.

    They have killed over 1,000,000 Iraqi’s and have maimed over 5,000,000 … all in the name of Freedom & Justice? What a joke! No man has the right to maim & slaughter unless they are defending family and Country fighting against an overt aggressor.

    As you know, Iraq was not an aggressor! Technically, neither was Afghanistan.

    Your plea and article is one of many, many that I have had the displeasure to read.

    Keep up the great work. Maybe one day people in the USA, UK & Aus will listen … but I doubt it will happen in our lifetime because they justifiably keep looking for another dollar to support their families while our elected officials just keep throwing those dollars away supporting Corporate-Greed, incompetence and war ,,,

    Cheers,
    Mike
    US Citizen, Australian Citizen (Not in that order)

  2. Psyche, Science, and Society » Worthington on music torture says...

    [...] any doubt remains as to the pernicious effects of music torture, consider the following comments by Binyam Mohamed, a British resident, still held in Guantánamo, who was tortured in Morocco for 18 months on behalf [...]

  3. freedetainees.org » A History of Music Torture in the War on Terror says...

    [...] case any doubt remains as to the pernicious effects of music torture, consider the comments by Binyam Mohamed, a British resident still held in Guantánamo, who was tortured in Morocco for 18 months on behalf [...]

  4. freedetainees.org » Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo says...

    [...] 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 [...]

  5. Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story « Israelis wars on muslims indicates the beginning of the fall of the American Empire! says...

    [...] the abuse Mohamed underwent in Pakistan are contained in the ‘redacted’ section of the British High Court judgment on his case that Foreign Secretary David Miliband is refusing to release, claiming that to do so [...]

  6. US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] of Mohamed’s rendition and torture, which, last October, was being discussed in courtrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, led to Mohamed’s release from Guantánamo in February this year, when he essentially leapfrogged [...]

  7. UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] I explained in an article last November: The judges also seized on an admission, made on behalf of the foreign secretary, David Miliband, [...]

  8. UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] appointed by the government to deal with secret evidence in court on Mohamed’s behalf), who have long maintained that the government has no grounds for hiding “information which pointed to the commission of [...]

  9. Torture in Afghanistan: UK Court Orders Release of Evidence « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] government’s claims have also been maintained despite the judges’ assertion that “the issue is one of considerable importance in the context of open justice,” and [...]

  10. An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), [...]

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