In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK


On September 10, the Independent featured an article about Guantánamo prisoner and British resident Binyam Mohamed, which included exclusive extracts from a statement that Binyam made on August 11 during a visit by Cori Crider, staff attorney for Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 31 prisoners in Guantánamo.

 

An Ethiopian-born Londoner, Binyam spent his 30th birthday in isolation in Guantánamo just weeks before Ms. Crider’s visit. He has been imprisoned since April 2002, when he was seized in Pakistan during a particularly intense and paranoid phase of the "War on Terror." Rendered to Morocco by the CIA in July 2002, he was tortured on behalf of the United States for 18 months, and was then flown to Afghanistan, where he spent another nine months in the "Dark Prison," a CIA torture prison near Kabul, and the US military prison at Bagram airbase. He arrived in Guantánamo in June 2004.

 

In April this year, Binyam’s lawyers submitted a request for documents in the possession of the British government relating to knowledge of his rendition and torture, based, in particular, on a visit to Binyam that was made by British agents in May 2002, when he was in a Pakistani jail but evidently under US supervision, and on questions that were put to him by his Pakistani torturers about his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services.

 

When the government’s lawyers refused to release this information, claiming that they had no responsibility to do so, Binyam’s lawyers sued the government, arguing that the need for this information was pressing because Binyam was about to be put forward for trial at Guantánamo in the Military Commissions (described, in 2003, as a "kangaroo court" by Lord Steyn, a British law lord), and the information was needed to mount an effective defence to allegations that were produced under torture.

 

This, in turn, led to a judicial review in the High Court at the end of July, and a spectacular ruling, delivered on August 22 by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, in which the judges ruled that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary was "under a duty" to disclose the requested information "in confidence" to Binyam’s legal advisers. The judges stated that this was "not only necessary but essential for his defence" for three particular reasons: firstly, because the Foreign Secretary had not made the documents available to Binyam’s lawyers; secondly, because the US authorities had also refused to do so; and thirdly, because the Foreign Secretary had accepted that Binyam 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."

 

Noting that there were possible implications for national security, however, the judges granted the government a week to submit a Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificate. This was turned down on September 5, but the government was granted more time to submit another PII Certificate, in light of concessions made by the US State Department regarding the provision of evidence should his case come to trial.

 

The judge’s ruling on this second PII Certificate is expected in the next week or so, but reproduced below is Binyam’s full statement in response to the judicial review, which concluded the week before Ms. Crider’s visit, as well as other comments and observations about the current situation in Guantánamo.

 

Described by Ms. Crider as "very frail and depressed," Binyam told her, "I’m sick, and I don’t know it. We got so used to being sick that we scarcely notice. Like a person limping who stops noticing, my health problems are so chronic that I barely notice them anymore." Speaking of conditions in general, he made the following observation: "I thought the US would at least say, ‘improve the conditions’, so they could take the pressure off from those pushing for the prisoners’ release."

 

He proceeded to describe his daily life at Guantánamo, explaining that his "recreation time" (the only time he is allowed outside), which is often portrayed in media reports as taking place in a yard, actually takes place in a "small cage." He said that he "tries to run in this cage", but asked how he is supposed to "run in circles in a cage that is a three metre by four metre cell"? He added, "I turn so much that the nerves on the outside of my foot have frayed."

 

Binyam also spoke about the refusal of the authorities to provide adequate reading material. "I have asked for educational books from the library", he said, "but there is nothing to read in the library." Explaining that he had already read the old National Geographic and sports magazines that were available, he added that he cannot read the books in Arabic, and desperately wants to read educational books in English — "maths, English, geography."

 

Referring to the Australian prisoner David Hicks (released in May 2007), who apparently had a large library of books to read, Binyam asked, "Where did the 200 books that Hicks had go? If he could get it, why don’t I have it? Australia is less powerful than the UK, so why do I not have the same access to reading materials as David Hicks had?"

 

The following is Binyam’s statement in response to the judicial review:

 

Binyam Mohamed’s statement from Guantánamo, August 11, 2008

 

I have learned that the UK has refused to give my lawyers information to help me prove my innocence — and that the UK has taken the position in court that I will get all the information I could possibly need through the rigged military courts, or through the "habeas" process.

 

How can they possibly be taking this position? Lord Steyn himself called these commissions "kangaroo courts" years ago, and he was exactly right. And I understood the official UK position to be that the commissions were unfair, and illegal, and that Britons should never be forced to go through them.

 

So how, then, can they say that the very people who tortured me, rendered me, and now want to try me in a kangaroo court will just hand over the evidence of their own criminal acts? For the UK to say this is naïve, at best, and a betrayal, at worst.

 

And as for habeas — I have been here for over six years, and I have yet to see a single scrap of proof come out of habeas. Why should I, or the UK, think it will be different now?

 

The UK has now spoken to me. The UK knows, I believe, what I go through every day. The UK should understand that no person could withstand this kind of treatment for much longer. To leave me in these conditions and, to add insult to injury, to defend the rigged process I am facing here, is a disgrace. I hope the UK government will reconsider its position before it is too late.

 

Signed this 11th day of August 2008.

 

Binyam Mohamed

 

Cori Crider (witness)

 

In addition, Binyam also talked about the testimony in his judicial review of "Agent B," one of two British agents who had visited him in May 2002, when he was being held in Pakistan. In their ruling, the judges declared that Binyam’s imprisonment was illegal according to Pakistani law, and cross-examined "Agent B" in several days of closed sessions. What happened in these sessions was not revealed, of course, but it was inferred that the agent was being asked in great detail about his account of Binyam’s interrogation, and the fact that he brought his own lawyer with him indicated that what was under discussion may have involved the possibility of criminal charges.

 

Binyam particularly objected to a claim by "Agent B" that he had no recollection of the following story, as related to Clive Stafford Smith during a previous visit to Guantánamo:

 

They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. "No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar." I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.

 

During his meeting with Cori Crider on August 11, Binyam said, "I had two interrogators in Pakistan. ‘B’ was interrogating, but it was the other unknown agent who made the threat about the tea. This person — we’ll call him ‘Agent X’ — walked in with ‘B’ at the start of the session. That was when he made the threat, and ‘B’ was there to hear it. A Pakistani had brought the tea. I told them, ‘one lump of sugar’, and then ‘Agent X’ made the threat. In fact, ‘Agent B’ sat down as ‘X’ made the comment, and said, ‘just ignore him.’"

 

"Why would he lie?" Binyam continued. "Why not do what the Americans do and just change the meaning?  If the Americans can change the meaning of torture, and you’re going to defend them, you might as well copy their tricks. They could at least argue that saying ‘sugar in tea’ wasn’t a threat, but they can’t claim that they didn’t say it at all."

 

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. His website is: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/ 

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