Secrets behind torture victim’s detention

MICHAEL SETTLE, UK Political Editor | The Herald, Feb 5, 2009

Binyam Mohamed claims to be a humble cleaner from London. The US military has a different view, believing him to be a dangerous terrorist.

The 31-year-old terror suspect, who now finds himself at the centre of an extraordinary row between British judges and the US authorities, has been incarcerated in the controversial camp at Guantanamo Bay since September 2004.

He was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain as a teenager in 1994, seeking asylum. He was given leave to remain and studied and worked as a janitor in London.

However, in 2002, he was arrested in Pakistan and then allegedly rendered to Morocco.

His lawyers claim that during his 18 months in north Africa he was tortured, including having a razor blade held to his penis.

He is said to have made confessions at Bagram, in Afghanistan, between May and September 2004, and at Guantanamo Bay before November that year.

He was originally charged with involvement in a “dirty bomb” plot, but that was withdrawn and the US authorities said new charges might be brought.

But no fresh indictment was filed, and on January 22 US President Barack Obama issued an executive order that no new charges should be sworn, pending a review of the position of all those detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Mohamed insists evidence against him was based on confessions extracted by torture and ill treatment – claims denied by the US authorities. Now there is speculation that he could soon be released.

He wrote to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith recently that “several reliable sources” had told him his release to Britain had been approved.

He has been on hunger strike to protest against his continued imprisonment. “I should have been home a long time ago,” the Ethiopian said in the letter dated December 29.

Earlier in August, two High Court judges ruled MI5 had participated in his unlawful interrogation and said the UK had a duty to disclose what it knew about his treatment.

The information, described as a “short summary” of Mohamed’s treatment by the US, was supplied to the court on the condition that it not be released publicly. Yesterday’s ruling was the result of an appeal by the media against the documents being withheld.

While the same judges ruled the dossier provided by the US authorities should remain secret, they bitterly criticised the Americans over the way they had sought to prevent the information from being released, particularly as it was “relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment – politically embarrassing though it might be”.

In the end, they decided to suppress the material because David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, played the national security card, telling them he believed there to be a “real risk” the potential loss of intelligence co-operation would seriously increase the threat from terror faced by the UK.

The Foreign Office backed up the line, saying: “Intelligence relationships, especially with the United States, are vital to Britain’s national security. They are based on an assumption of trust.”

This is not the first time America has sought to restrict a UK court’s access to information.

In 2007, the US military was criticised for failing to provide an inquest with evidence about the death of British soldier Matty Hull in a friendly fire incident involving American jets in Iraq.

There have also been previous cases where the UK Government has cited national security in making major legal decisions.

In 2006, a long-running Serious Fraud Office investigation into a multi-billion pound BAE Systems arms deal with Saudi Arabia was controversially halted.

Having applauded Barack Obama for signing an order to close Guantanamo Bay, human rights campaigners and opposition MPs now fear that the heavy-handed non-disclosure policy that existed under the Bush administration is simply continuing blithely under its successor.

Pressure will undoubtedly grow today for Mr Miliband to answer MPs’ questions at the Commons despatch box; it will be interesting to see if he will comply.

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