UK Lawyer on Renditions Victim The British Government Is 'Hiding Things'

Binyam Mohamed is one of two British residents still held at Guantanamo. All charges against him have been dropped and he is expected to return home to London within days. His case, however, could spark a major investigation into the alleged complicity of the British government in renditions and torture.


An archive photo of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed: "They would hang him up by his wrists, he suffered from sleep deprivation and beating."
AP

An archive photo of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed: "They would hang him up by his wrists, he suffered from sleep deprivation and beating."

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born resident of Britain, was arrested in April 2002 in Karachi by Pakistani authorities, who later turned him over to American intelligence officials. After his interrogation there, he was taken on a CIA rendition flight to a black site in Morocco, where he spent 18 months in detention. Mohamed claims he was tortured by the authorities in both Pakistan and Morocco. His lawyers believe the British government knew about -- but ignored -- the torture for two years.

Earlier this week, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that an MI5 officer last year testified about the existence of an official interrogation policy devised by lawyers for the country's secret service and senior government officials at Whitehall. The officer, referred to by the High Court as "Witness B," said that although Mohamed had been in custody in Pakistan for five weeks when he interrogated him, he didn't ask whether Mohamed had been tortured or mistreated. This, despite the fact he knew the country had a poor human rights record and he had noticed the prisoner had visibly lost weight. Witness B said he didn't consider Mohamed's detention without trial to be illegal. He also admitted telling him that "he would get more lenient treatment if he cooperated" and that he knew the prisoner was expected to be transferred into US custody.

In cross-examination, "Witness B" also claimed Mohamed had been in an "extremely vulnerable" position when he was questioned by the MI5 officer in Karachi after his arrest in April 2002. The Home Secretary has referred Mohamed's case to the General Attorney for a possible criminal investigation into the officials' actions.

The 30-year-old former London resident has been on a hunger strike at Guantanamo for over a month, and he is currently being force fed. When his US military lawyer, Yvonne Bradley, last met with Mohamed, she described his arms as being like "little, thin twigs."

A month ago, Mohamed's former military prosecutor declared that he presented no threat to Britain or America, and all charges against him were dropped. A British government delegation visiting the US prison camp enclave in Cuba over the weekend announced that Binyam is medically fit to return to the United Kingdom.

Last week, SPIEGEL ONLINE sat down for an interview with Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, a human rights organization for prisoners. Stafford Smith has represented more than 40 Guantanamo detainees. The lawyer is the author of the book, "Eight o'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay." He answered questions about Mohamed's torture allegations, possible British government complicity and his client's expected release.

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith: "The person who is ultimately responsible is (former Prime Minister) Tony Blair."
Getty Images

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith: "The person who is ultimately responsible is (former Prime Minister) Tony Blair."

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A British delegation is currently visiting Guantanamo. Does that mean that your client Binyam Mohamed could soon return to Britain?

Clive Stafford Smith: They wanted to check the physical condition of Binyam Mohamed to determine whether he is able to take a plane or not. We are hoping that he might come back to his hometown, London, next week. We know that he is now No. 1 (to be released) on the list of 242 detainees left in Guantanamo. Mohamed's case will be the first to be reviewed by the Obama administration. They will give him priority.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is this due to the meeting you held last week with top level British officials, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who received you for a full half-hour?

Stafford Smith: Paradoxically, I think the factor that delayed the whole procedure in our case was the Obama administration. They set up a new system and decided to review each individual case. This takes a certain amount of time.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did your meeting with the foreign secretary help push things forward?

Stafford Smith: We are always talking about two very separate issues: Binyam's possible return to Britain and the evidence of torture in his case. Concerning his return, the role of the British government is extremely positive. They made numerous efforts to bring him back, and they have taken this seriously. In this matter I really cannot laud them enough. But on the issue of torture, they have not behaved very well at all. They are hiding things and not providing public documents that could provide more evidence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have even sent a letter to President Obama containing evidence that Mohamed has been tortured. The president, however, has not received that letter.

Stafford Smith: Oh God, this letter story is just incredible. As a defense team, we had access to intelligence papers, and we tried to provide the president with the evidence of torture we obtained. We wanted him to know that. But all the substantial parts of my letter were blacked out so the president could not read them. Under the bizarre laws the Americans have, they are preventing their commander-in-chief from knowing things that he should. I wrote to him that he is being denied access to material that would help prove that crimes have been committed by US personnel and that these decisions have been made by the very people he commands.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You also wrote to President Obama that your client, Binyam Mohammed, was tortured in a "truly medieval way." Can you further specify this?

Stafford Smith: As his lawyer, I am not allowed to tell you what I know from the documents. But I can share with you what Binyam told me about his torture. He told me that, already in Pakistan, they pointed a gun towards him; they would hang him up by his wrists; he suffered from sleep deprivation and beating. In Morocco, the torture got worse and worse -- they even cut his genitals with a razor blade.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The two British High Court judges last week said they regretted they had been banned from making these documents with evidence of torture public.

Stafford Smith: Yes. I can tell you that the High Court documents represent only a tiny percentage of the evidence. The reason the evidence is so powerful is that it is based on documents written by the Americans. The worst thing you can say about the British is that they knew, in absolute terms, that Binyam Mohamed was being tortured. It was a criminal act for them not to have helped this man, and an investigation is required to examine this chapter very closely. Despite its behavior, Britain is taking him back now, and the government is doing the right thing. One of the problems we have in Europe is that the French and Spanish are paranoid about taking back prisoners because they fear legal procedures will be triggered, with trials and demands for civil compensation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think there will be political fallout from the Mohamed case?

Stafford Smith: Yes. One of the questions the British will have to answer is why they didn't do anything when authorities knew he was being held in Morocco. They even forwarded information about Mohamed to his interrogators there. The person who is ultimately responsible is (former Prime Minister) Tony Blair.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the end, do you think the documents in question will be released to the public?

Stafford Smith: Sure they will. The one thing we have learned since the Nixon presidency in the US is that it is worse to cover up political misdoings than to admit them.

Interview conducted by Britta Sandberg.

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