National Security

Guantanamo detainee arrives in Britain, renews torture claims

Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is calling for the immediate release of her client, Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident now on hunger strike at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is calling for the immediate release of her client, Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident now on hunger strike at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. Randy Quan / MCT

LONDON — Binyam Mohamed, a gaunt-looking, bearded man wearing a cream sweater, white tennis shoes and a white skullcap, stepped off a chartered jet at a British air base Monday after a 10-hour trip from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, closing a dark chapter in his life that he claims included torture.

His release by the Obama administration followed a hunger strike and international outrage that he spent seven years in U.S. custody for crimes that even the Americans now say they can't prove.

Accompanied by British police, a doctor and Foreign Office officials, Mohamed, 30, arrived at RAF Northolt near London shortly after 1 p.m. After his capture in Pakistan in 2002, U.S. officials accused him of training with al Qaida and plotting an attack with a radioactive "dirty" bomb.

Even before his plane landed, he blasted American and British officials, who he charges were complicit in his alleged abuse.

"I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares," said Mohamed's statement, which his lawyers released. "Before this ordeal, 'torture' was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next and tortured in medieval ways, all orchestrated by the United States government."

During a medical examination at Guantanamo about 10 days ago, a British doctor who'd been sent to assess Mohamed's fitness to travel reportedly found him suffering from bruises, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores on his hands and feet and severe damage to ligaments, as well as emotional and psychological damage.

Mohamed was on a hunger strike from late December until shortly before he was released and was being force-fed through tubes.

One of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, alleged that Mohamed's abuse had continued at Guantanamo Bay until recently.

In addition to his legal team, Mohamed was met on arrival in Britain by his older sister, Zuhra Mohamed, who'd traveled from the United States for the reunion. An older brother, Benhur Mohamed, also was traveling from the U.S. to Britain.

The Foreign Office has been lobbying for Mohamed's release since 2007, but thus far he's been granted only temporary permission to stay in Britain by the Home Office, which oversees the security services. After being interviewed by police, Mohamed was expected to spend time with his family in a quiet location.

His lawyers said he'd agreed to a series of voluntary security measures, which they wouldn't disclose. These are expected to include regular visits to the police.

Mohamed, who was born in Ethiopia and moved to Britain at age 15, was held in several countries after his arrest, including Morocco, where he was severely tortured before being sent to Guantanamo in 2005, he says.

"Many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years," Mohamed said in his statement. "For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers."

The accusations of British complicity in Mohamed's detention and alleged torture have sparked charges of a cover-up by British authorities, which are unwilling to release classified documents related to Mohamed's case. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has denied the charges, and several inquiries into Britain's policies on torture are under way in London.

Human Rights Watch, a civil liberties group, is preparing to release a study that alleges widespread complicity between British security agents and their Pakistani counterparts, who routinely torture suspects.

Brown has declined to discuss security plans for Mohamed while he's in Britain, but said that "at all times the security of the country will be protected." Many Britons have questioned why a former Guantanamo detainee who isn't a British citizen is being allowed to return here.

Vowing in his statement not to forget the prisoners who remain at Guantanamo, Mohamed thanked his British and American lawyers, Foreign Office officials and members of the British public who wrote him while he was at the detention camp.

His appointed military attorney, U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, also thanked "the White House and President Obama" for changing policy on Guantanamo, which she said was instrumental in speeding her client's release.

In the United States, Military Families United, a nonprofit advocacy organization, issued a statement Monday expressing concern about the release of "a terrorist designated an unlawful enemy combatant" before a more extensive review was conducted. The group warned that "Americans must now be very watchful of every action the Obama administration takes in (the) war on terror."

Stafford Smith said he was "absolutely" convinced of his client's innocence, and he challenged anyone who had evidence to the contrary to file legal charges. "They should put up or shut up," he said. Quoting former President George W. Bush, the lawyer added, "Bring it on."

(Sell is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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