British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo


For three years, ever since I began researching and writing about the stories of the prisoners held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay on a full-time basis, I have looked forward to writing that headline, as the story of Binyam Mohamed, 30, a British resident who was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture in order to get him to confess to a non-existent terrorist plot, is one of the more disturbing stories in a prison that is full of horrendous stories of torture, abuse and misguided intelligence.

In a letter dated 29 December but only cleared by the Pentagon’s censors this week, Binyam wrote to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, “It has come to my attention through several reliable sources that my release from Guantánamo to the UK had been ordered several weeks ago. It is a cruel tactic of delay to suspend my travel till the last days of this administration while I should have been home a long time ago.”

In a disturbing last line, Binyam added, “I am on a hunger strike and I am aiming to be force fed in protest to this.”

When Binyam wrote his letter, he requested that it be sent out to a number of individuals and organization, including Cageprisoners. His military defense attorney, Air Force Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, duly forwarded it, noting that, as soon as she received it,

I contacted the JTF [Joint Task Force] legal office to confirm whether or not Binyam was on a hunger strike and whether he was being force fed. I was told that the JTF would have to check into the matter and I had to call back at least three additional times before being told that they “will not release the information.” I was instructed that if I wanted information about Mr. Mohamed’s medical condition and whether he is on a hunger strike or being force fed that I would have to contact the OMC-P [the prosecution department for the Office of Military Commissions, responsible for Guantánamo’s unique and much-criticized system of “terror trials”] and request the medical records.

Lt. Col. Bradley continued:

I had to remind the JTF legal office that Mr. Mohamed was not charged [he was charged in June 2008, but the charges were dropped in October] and therefore he was not under the jurisdiction of the prosecution office nor the CA [Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority who oversees the trials] and that custody, control and the welfare of Mr. Mohamed was in the hands of the JTF. The JTF lawyer then put me on hold and returned with the response that they “will not release any information and if you want information released you need to go through FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act].” At this time, I do not know the health and medical status of Mr. Mohamed. I am being refused this information. Given Mr. Mohamed’s weak health and fragile condition prior to this potential current hunger strike, I have grave concerns about his condition.

Even without these serious doubts about Binyam’s current health — and Lt. Col. Bradley’s report about the distressing obfuscation on the part of the military authorities — it is clear that no celebration is possible until Binyam is actually back in the country that he has called his home since he arrived here as a teenager nearly 15 years ago. As Clive Stafford Smith pointed out to me in an email, after I asked him, “Is this for real?” “Binyam has certainly been told it is, but they have lied to him too many times to count.” But with just days to go before Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, it seems unlikely that there will be another sting in the tail, especially as developments in Binyam’s case over the last nine months have done so much to shatter any credibility whatsoever in the government’s case against him.

Binyam’s story first surfaced, in appalling detail, in August 2005, when Stafford Smith made his account of his torture in Morocco available to the Guardian. Binyam had related his story to Stafford Smith in early 2005, over the course of three days in Guantánamo (the first time he had been allowed to meet a lawyer), and had explained how, after being seized by the Pakistani authorities in April 2002 and held in brutal conditions for three months, he had been sent by the CIA to Morocco, where he had been tortured for 18 months, and had then been rendered to the “Dark Prison” near Kabul, in Afghanistan, where his torture continued for another five months. He then spent another four months at the US prison at Bagram airbase, and arrived in Guantánamo in September 2004.

Like every word uttered between the prisoners and their lawyers, Binyam’s account of his chilling ordeal was presumptively classified, until — miraculously, in light of its contents — it was cleared by the Pentagon’s censors.

In the most harrowing passage, Binyam explained:

They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me. Maybe castrate me.

They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. At first I just screamed … I was just shocked, I wasn’t expecting … Then they cut my left chest. This time I didn’t want to scream because I knew it was coming.

One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. “I told you I was going to teach you who’s the man,” [one] eventually said.

They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.

Binyam’s experiences in the “Dark Prison” were also horrific. The prison was a facsimile of a medieval dungeon, but with the addition of painfully loud music, which was blasted into the cells 24 hours a day. Speaking of his time there, he said,

It was pitch black, and no lights on in the rooms for most of the time … They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb … There was loud music, Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this non-stop over and over, I memorized the music, all of it, when they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds.  It got really spooky in this black hole … Interrogation was right from the start, and went on until the day I left there. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off … Throughout my time I had all kinds of music, and irritating sounds, mentally disturbing. I call it brainwashing.

At the end of this ordeal, Binyam said he made a number of false confessions about his involvement with al-Qaeda and a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in New York, which came about as a direct result of his torture in Morocco and at the hands of CIA agents in Afghanistan.

In the three and a half years since Binyam’s story first surfaced, he has, of course, suffered further indignities at Guantánamo, and his lawyers first expressed concern about the precarious state of his mental health in December 2007, when Clive Stafford Smith returned from a visit to report that Binyam was smearing the walls of his cell with his own faeces. In a medical report commissioned by Reprieve and submitted to David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, Dr Daniel Creson, a psychiatrist from Texas with extensive experience in the treatment of the victims of torture, warned that descriptions of his recent behaviour in Guantánamo suggested that his mental health was deteriorating, that he was suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that he was “reaching the end of his psychological tether.”

Events in the last nine months have advanced Binyam’s case considerably, as courts on both sides of the Atlantic have examined his case, have found the Bush administration’s evidence wanting, and have been critical of the behaviour of both the British and the American intelligence services. In the UK, the High Court condemned British agents for their complicity in Binyam’s rendition and torture, and in the US, when the prisoners were finally allowed to have their cases reviewed by a court (following a memorable Supreme Court ruling last June, which granted them constitutional habeas corpus rights), the Justice Department dropped its long-discredited claim about the “dirty bomb” plot, and the judge expressed his doubts that the allegations “were ever true” and even summoned defense secretary Robert Gates to testify that the government was not hiding any evidence. Indirectly, Binyam also secured a victory in the Military Commissions, when his case was dropped following the resignation of his prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who explained that the system was incapable of providing justice, and that his experience as a prosecutor had turned him from a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived.”

These efforts will, I believe, be regarded as amongst the most significant of the many heroic endeavours on the part of lawyers to gain justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo and to free them from the unpardonable abuse that they have all suffered (and that so many continue to suffer, to this day), but the greatest legal victories have no tangible effect on men who continue to be held in bleak isolation, day after day, with no way of knowing if any of these achievements will actually lead to their release.

As Lt. Col. Bradley explained in her letter, “It appears that the only way I may be able to get immediate information as to Mr. Mohamed’s welfare is through the press and media exposure on this issue as well as through Cageprisoners and other human rights organizations.”

To help Binyam Mohamed, please write to David Miliband, asking him to do all in his power to secure Binyam’s immediate release.

Email: here.

Phone: 020 7008 1500

Or write to:

Right Hon David Miliband MP
Foreign Secretary
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

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 — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

This commentary was written exclusively for Cageprisoners.

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), 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), 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).

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009). Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).

9 Responses

  1. the talking dog says...

    Binyam’s release is long overdue, and a testament to the diligence and pluck of his legal team. It also demonstrates the probable impossibility of bringing anyone held at Guantanamo (or elsewhere in the American gulag archipelago) for trial for anything, given that it will be virtually impossible to segregate “evidence” not derived from screaming confessions and/or accusations made during the course of torture.

    And sufficeth to say, anyone who questions whether or not the USA or its allies “tortures” would be forced to acknowledge that physical mutilation, up to and including of the prisoner’s genitals, is the dictionary definition of “torture”… and for anyone stupid enough to believe that such barbarism is ever justified for any reason, you have my pity.

  2. Top Stories and Blog Review - 19th Jan – Politics Unlimited | UK politics news says...

    […] Andy Worthington looks back at what has happened to Binyam Mohammed on the (hopeful) eve of his release from Guantanemo Bay. I feel sick to my stomach that my government, a government that many people reading this will have voted for, had a hand in this. […]

  3. Frances Madeson says...

    I am trying to picture the expression on the torturer’s face as he took this man’s penis, the site of a person’s most intimate pleasure, literally in his hand (gloved or not gloved? flesh on flesh?) and transformed it into a hieroglyphic of humiliation, pain, fear, dread, degradation, and inhumanity. I imagine he might look something like George W. Bush squinting into the sun.

  4. Ahmad Waleed says...

    You have forgot that they spit, desecrete and piss on the Qur’an in front of the 774 Muslim prisoners there

  5. » Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo says...

    […] “extraordinary rendition” and torture in Binyam Mohamed’s case by arranging — as has been suggested since the end of last year — that he will be returned in the near future to Britain, where, without wishing to be at all […]

  6. Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount « project-sheffield says...

    […] has heard these rumors before — since December, in fact, when he told his lawyers, “It has come to my attention through several reliable sources that my release from Guantánamo […]

  7. Outsourcing torture to foreign climes - says...

    […] British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantnamo | Andy Worthington Binyam Mohamed was another. […]

  8. Mohamed, et al v. Jeppesen Data Plan : says...

    […] released in 2009. In addition to the above torture techniques used upon him, Mohamed also had his penis sliced 20-30 times with a scalpel. “They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a […]

  9. Bush Era Ends With a Little Truth | Lew Rockwell says...

    […] they were transferred to Guantánamo, the dozens of prisoners who were tortured in the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit” (two secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan), the rest of the 14 […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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