Released Guantanamo Detainee: What Did Tony Blair Know?

By Britta Sandberg

Binyam Mohamed has been released from Guantanamo and arrived back in London on Monday. The case of the Ethiopian man's ordeal may still unveil evidence about how much the British government knew about the rendition and torture of terror suspects.

Binyam Mohamed's seven years of incarceration came to an end on Monday at 1:11 p.m. The 30-year-old Ethiopian, who holds a British residency permit, had finally left the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, and after a 10-hour flight he landed at the Royal Air Force military airbase in Northolt near London.

Waiting for him at the airport were his British lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Gareth Pierce, his US military lawyer Yvonne Bradley and his sister Zuhra.

The slender man, wearing white tennis shoes, jeans and a beige sweater, left the aircraft a short time later with faltering steps. Mohamed had spent the last few weeks on hunger strike in protest over his ongoing imprisonment.

The fact that he has now been released makes him the first inmate to leave Guantanamo under the new US administration. For President Barack Obama the Ethiopian man from Great Britain had been a kind of test case, one that would test the credibility of Obama's assertions that he would put an end to the Bush administration's legal aberrations.

The case of Binyam Mohamed could also be the first to prove that the British government had silently tolerated the renditions and torture of prisoners by US intelligence services. Two High Court judges in Britain have said that the evidence contained in 42 confidential US documents they were allowed to see should be taken seriously.

These documents are only a "tiny piece of the whole truth," says Clive Stafford Smith, the defense lawyer who is representing Mohamed in London. He says that if the papers were published they would effect the "entire top political establishment … above all Tony Blair." British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith already asked the attorney general to initiate an investigation in October 2008 into whether British government officials could be prosecuted for failing to stop the torture of a detainee.

"It was a criminal act for them not to have helped this man," Stafford Smith told SPIEGEL last week.

In a statement issued by his legal team on Monday, Mohamed said: "For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and material from British intelligence."

Mohamed lived for seven years, until he was 22, in London's trendy Notting Hill district. Born in Ethiopia in 1978, he first moved with his family to Washington before settling in London with his father, who worked for Ethiopian Airlines. Mohamed spent his time doing kickboxing and going to the mosque. Then, in the early summer of 2001, he suddenly left for Afghanistan, where he possibly visited an al-Qaida training camp. On April 10, 2002, he was promptly arrested as he tried to fly back to London from the Pakistani city of Karachi using a forged passport. The Pakistani intelligence agency and the CIA interrogated him and came to suspect that he was a member of al-Qaida. Later he was accused, without proof, of planning to build a "dirty bomb" -- a primitive radioactive weapon.

On May 17, 2002, five weeks after his arrest, a member of the British intelligence agency MI5 traveled to Pakistan to interrogate Mohamed. According to Mohamed, he had been tortured repeatedly by this time: He says he was tied up by his wrists and beaten, threatened with a gun and not allowed to sleep for days at a time. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, this was not unusual treatment in Pakistan. The prisoner, who according to Pakistani law would have been considered British, was never given access to a lawyer or charged with any crime. Both of these facts were known by the government in London.

Mohamed says that the British agent who interrogated him and who introduced himself as John, advised him to cooperate so that he would receive better treatment. The MI5 man is alleged to have also suggested that if he didn't, the Americans would take him to another country. So did the British secret service act in support of the Pakistani and American actions? Is this credible or is Mohamed lying?

SPIEGEL has seen a transcript of one of the documents in the British High Court case. It is the transcript of a cross examination of the intelligence officer, referred to as "Witness B," who interrogated Mohamed in Pakistan. Over the course of 19 pages, he reluctantly explains how his country circumvented legal principles.

No, he did not inquire if the prisoner had been mistreated, Witness B says in the document. He did not ask why Mohamed had visibly lost weight nor did he ask if the detainee had a lawyer. "Were you aware that there could be legal and ethical problems for you and the intelligence agencies?" he was asked. "It was made clear to me, by the agency, and I think the government, that the questioning of the prisoner under these circumstances was seen as appropriate and proper," Witness B answered.

'Medieval' Torture

Two months after the interrogation, performed by British agents on July 21, 2002, men dressed in black ski masks came for Binyam Mohamed in the dark of night at the airport in Islamabad. They completely undressed him, put him in a diaper, placed a blindfold over his eyes and taped his mouth shut. He was then flown in Gulfstream N379P, a plane chartered by the CIA and known in the intelligence community as a "torture taxi," to Rabat, Morocco, where he arrived at 3:43 a.m. the next morning.

At the Témara prison, the torture, as his lawyer Stafford Smith described it, became "medieval." Mohamed remained in Morocco for a total of 18 months, his captors repeatedly used a razor blade on his penis to get him to confess. Here too investigators confronted him with details from his life that, Mohamed is convinced, could only have come from Britain's MI5. Who in Morocco would know the name of his kickboxing trainer in London?

To speed things up, Smith sent a letter to US President Barack Obama on Feb. 9 -- including a memo providing proof that Mohamed had been tortured in Afghanistan and Morocco. But when the letter arrived in Washington, these pages were completely blacked out.

"Under the bizarre laws the Americans have, they are preventing their commander-in-chief from knowing things that he should know," Smith told SPIEGEL. "He is being denied access to material that would help prove that crimes have been committed by US personnel." Smith himself gleaned the information from 42 classified documents that Mohamed's defense team was given access to.

In the ruling at the beginning of February, the High Court recommended that these documents be made public, but the judges stopped short of making it an order due to a statement made by British Foreign Minister David Miliband, who had warned that intelligence relations with the US would be seriously harmed if the documents were released.

Just a few days ago, however, it was revealed that the Foreign Ministry had asked the US State Department for a letter saying that if were the documents published, it would consider cutting off secret service cooperation with its closest European allies. Partially as a result of that revelation, the High Court may soon reopen the case.

Should they do so, they are certain to have a new star witness. Mohamed has now returned to London.

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