The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
February 12th, 2009 - British Group Heads to Guantanamo to Free Resident
By Paisley Dodds
February 12, 2009
London - A British court met Wednesday to reconsider a case regarding a British resident being held in Guantanamo - a lawsuit that stands to embarrass the American and British governments over torture allegations.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, meanwhile, announced that a doctor and other British officials would visit Binyam Mohamed at the US prison camp on Cuba's eastern tip. Mohamed has been on a hunger strike for more than a month and is being force-fed. He launched the strike to protest his continued detention. Charges against him were dropped last year.
"The visit will help us make preparations for his return," said Miliband, after talks with Mohamed's military lawyer, Air Force Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, who appealed to Britain to pressure President Barack Obama's administration for Mohamed's release.
Mohamed's imminent release raises a series of awkward questions for the United States and Britain.
Mohamed claims that, before he was sent to Guantanamo in 2004, he was held in Pakistan where he was beaten by Pakistani authorities and interviewed by a British security agent from MI5. After three months in Pakistan, he says the United States sent him to Morocco where he was interrogated and brutally tortured - his penis was allegedly slashed with a scalpel - for 18 months.
The United States has never publicly acknowledged extraordinary renditions to places such as Morocco and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, and still refuses to say where Mohamed was for 18 months. British officials claim they didn't know he was being sent to Morocco, although an MI5 officer interviewed him in Karachi, Pakistan, shortly before he was allegedly sent to Morocco's capital of Rabat.
Mohamed's attorneys sued last year in Britain before the charges were dropped against him in Guantanamo, fighting for 42 intelligence documents the United States had shared with Britain. Mohamed claimed the material proved he was tortured.
Although Mohamed's defense attorneys were eventually allowed to see the documents - some of which had been redacted - several media organizations, including The Associated Press, sued to make the documents public.
In their ruling last week, justices John Thomas and Lloyd Jones said the documents detailed Mohamed's treatment but that the material could not be made public. The justices cited Miliband's assertion that the United States could threaten to withhold valuable intelligence information if the material was put into the public domain.
Miliband then said there was never a threat, which prompted Mohamed's attorneys and media organizations to ask the justices to reconsider their ruling. The British government and the claimants have 21 days to make fresh arguments.
Mohamed's attorneys say Britain has a responsibility to come clean if it knew Mohamed had been tortured at the hands of the United States. They also claim Britain had knowledge of Mohamed's rendition, which would violate British law.
"Disclosure matters because we need to know did torture happen - was the government involved?" said opposition Conservative lawmaker, David Davis. "If it was, was it as a matter of policy or was it a matter of freelancing ... We need to make sure it never happens again."
According to a transcript seen by The Associated Press on Wednesday in High Court, a British security agent from MI5 identified only as "Witness B" testified last year before the justices that he interrogated Mohamed in Pakistan on May 17, 2002 - more than a month after he was first arrested for using a false passport after leaving Afghanistan.
Although the MI5 agent reported no signs of mistreatment, he noted Mohamed looked thinner than his picture.
"It caused me sufficient concern for me to have noted it and recorded it," the agent said.
Although the agent conceded that "the Pakistani authorities were not held to be particularly high paradigms of human rights," he believed Mohamed was fit to be interviewed and that Mohamed had not complained of any mistreatment.
The agent denied he had been sent to pressure Mohamed and that he believed that any "information which is obtained through any form of duress is by its nature unreliable."
There was no indication in the testimony that MI5 knew Mohamed was allegedly about to be sent to Morocco.
Britain's Intelligence and Security Committee issued a report in 2007 saying that they interviewed officials from MI5 and were told that Britain only became aware of Mohamed's rendition to Morocco in 2005, a year after he was in Guantanamo.
The report also claimed that Britain's security service had no other contact with Mohamed after the 2002 interview in Karachi.
"With hindsight, it is regrettable that assurances regarding proper treatment of detainees were not sought from the Americans in (Mohamed's) case" and that British security agencies passed on intelligence information to his American captors," the members of the committee wrote in the parliamentary report.
Meanwhile, a veteran U.S. Army interrogator insisted in an affidavit released Wednesday that he never witnessed Mohamed being abused and said the suspect cooperated in a terror probe after he was captured.
The official first encountered Mohamed on July 21, 2004 at a U.S. detention center in Afghanistan. The interrogator described establishing a friendly relationship with Mohamed, and said the detainee provided detailed descriptions of abandoned terrorist training camps that helped U.S. investigators and identified suspects.
The interrogator's account is contained in a sworn statement filed in federal court in Washington. The name is redacted. The affidavit was provided to The Associated Press by the military.
"I greeted Mr. Mohamed with a traditional Islamic greeting and Mr. Mohamed reciprocated. I introduced myself using my real name and shook Mr. Mohamed's hand," the interrogator recalled of their first meeting. "At the conclusion of the interview, Mr. Mohamed agreed to continue his cooperation and to provide truthful information to me."
But the sworn statement leaves blank the crucial 18 months that Mohamed was allegedly held in Morocco and later at a CIA secret prison in Afghanistan before being taken to Bagram.
A Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, said Wednesday that the team traveling to Cuba won't bring Mohamed back immediately but that Miliband was pressing the U.S. to quickly clear him for release.
The team is expected in Guantanamo next week.
Associated Press writers David Stringer and Dean Carson in London and Andrew Selsky in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.
By Jonathan Beale
February 12, 2009
The case of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident held in Guantanamo Bay, has already caused a political storm in Britain.
The waves of that row are now being felt right here in Washington.
The key question is whether Mr Mohamed was subjected to torture. His lawyers are in no doubt, claiming he was beaten while in custody in Pakistan, before being secretly flown to Morocco for interrogation and torture.
It is alleged that his brutal treatment there included having his genitals slashed with a scalpel. The lawyers and Mr Mohamed himself claim that the mistreatment continued while he was held in US custody, first in the "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan, then in Guantanamo where he is still being held.
British Foreign Office officials, accompanied by a Metropolitan Police doctor, are now preparing to fly out to Guantanamo to examine the claims and could arrive as early as next week.
But already the US military is trying to get out its side of the story. The Pentagon has always said it does not condone or practice torture but has thus far provided little detail about Mr Mohamed's treatment.
It has not even admitted that he was flown to Morocco for interrogation as part of the CIA's secret programme of extraordinary rendition.
But last night the US military hit back against the torture allegations. A senior US military interrogator who says he interviewed Mr Mohamed on six separate dates in 2004 at Bagram, and then a further 14 times after his transfer to Guantanamo, has submitted a sworn affidavit to a Washington court.
The interrogator's name and some other details have been edited out of the 19 pages of sworn statement seen by the BBC. Crucially, it does not give any detail of Mr Mohamed's time in Morocco.
But the statement paints a very different picture of Mr Mohamed's treatment. The US army interrogator - who first encountered Binyam Mohamed at Bagram airbase on 21 July 2004 - says that he was "not aware that anyone at Bagram took coercive, threatening or violent action against Mr Mohamed during this period".
He says their initial discussion was about the Ethiopian national's treatment: "Mr Mohamed informed me that he was being treated well at Bagram and that he was receiving appropriate medical care and religious accommodation. I did not notice any physical bruising or marks on Mr Mohamed's person."
The interrogator, who has served in the US Army for 18 years, talks about Binyam Mohamed's "polite and co-operative demeanour" as he was asked about allegations that he had trained at an al-Qaeda camp. He says: "I knew Mr Mohamed had attended Al-Farouq [the camp's name]."
He claims the detainee drew a sketch of the camp and after a number of sessions provided a statement about his activities. "Mr Mohamed was polite, courteous and respectful throughout the process of writing his statement," the interrogator says.
Mr Mohamed's lawyers have consistently denied US claims that he has links to terrorism or had been trained at an al-Qaeda camp.
When Mr Mohamed was transferred to Guantanamo in late 2004 the sessions continued. The unnamed interrogator says that when he asked Mr Mohamed about his health "he did not raise any allegations or concerns with me about physical abuse or mistreatment at Guantanamo."
In their meetings he tried to provide the detainee with various items including a book by Charles Dickens, he claims, plus an extra pair of socks and a pillow.
At one point he alleges noticing "what appeared to be healed burn scars on Mr Mohamed's right arm. I asked Mr Mohamed about the scar and he explained that the injury was the result of a fire involving kitchen oil when he was very young. I did not notice any other physical bruising or marks on Mr Mohamed's person, and Mr Mohamed did not identify any other scarring, bruising or injuries during my interviews with him".
Separately two US officials have told the BBC that Mr Mohamed has been medically examined and no evidence was found that his genitals had been slashed.
The "interviews" with this army interrogator ended in December 2004 when he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. The interrogator says that towards the end of their meetings Mr Mohamed requested "time to think about whether he wanted to co-operate with the Government".
Mr Mohamed is currently on hunger strike in protest at his treatment. His US military defence lawyer who saw him last week describes him now as "skin and bones".
Even if the sworn statement from the US army interrogator is an accurate full account, it still barely lifts the heavy veil of secrecy surrounding Binyam Mohamed's treatment - particularly with regard to what happened in Morocco.
Soon British officials will have the chance to speak to Mr Mohamed. The Pentagon still insists no decision has been taken to release him, but Mr Mohamed's lawyers hope this is the beginning of the process which will see him returned to the UK.
Only then may we begin to understand more about his case.
External link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7885211.stm