British government stalls on torture claims after Guantanamo release

By staff writers
February 24, 2009

Despite repeated claims that it opposes torture, the British government has so far failed to respond to specific allegations that its operatives have been complicit in a Guantánamo mistreatment case.

After a long battle with the US authorities, British resident Binyam Mohamed was finally freed from internationally-condemned Guantánamo Bay detention camp yesterday, and was released by the authorities after four hours of further questioning under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He was met by a doctor and his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Gareth Pierce, together with family and friends who eventually took him to a quiet place to begin to recover from his ordeal. He was described as malnourished and emaciated.

But legal charity Reprieve, headed by Mr Stafford Smith, which has played a lead role in Mr Mohamed's case, said last night that Baroness Scotland had been sent information about a detailed dossier of evidence concerning British complicity in mistreatment and torture. But she had neither replied to the letter nor sought the information.

The attorney general has so far taken four months to decide on an investigation into the case. Independent terror law scrutineer Lord Carlisle is among those who believe this is too long and want to see immediate action.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday said he would continue to refuse disclosure of documents which Reprieve say show British complicity, citing security arrangements with the US as justification.

Government spokesperson Keith Vaz last night boasted on BBC TV's programme that Mr Mohamed's release was due to "government campaigning", but human rights activists say such claims are "hollow" while the government continues to obfuscate and obstruct justice.

Foreign secretary David Miliband again told the media that his government opposes the use of torture, but he has refused to state categorically that it was not complicit in this case.

Reprieve's Clive Stafford Smith has seen the documents the government will not release publicly and says they confirm the claims, but he is not allowed by law to disclose their contents.

Binyam Mohamed’s sister Zuhra, who travelled to London to meet him yesterday, said: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.”

Mr Mohamed is a victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture. He was initially held illegally in Pakistan for four months, which is where a British intelligence agent interrogated him under circumstances later found to be illegal by the British courts. He was rendered to Morocco by the CIA on July 21, 2002, where he was tortured for 18 months, with the British government supplying information and questions used by the Moroccan torturers.

On January 21, 2004, he was rendered a second time, to the secret “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan, where his torture continued. Since September 2004, he has been held in Guantánamo Bay. He has never been tried for any crime.

“We hope and expect that the government will allow Binyam’s immediate release,” said Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith. “He is a victim who has suffered more than any human being should ever suffer. He just wants to go somewhere very quiet and try to recover. Every moment that he is held compounds the abuse he has endured.”

For the past several weeks, Mr. Mohamed has been on hunger strike against the continuing abuse he was subjected to in Guantánamo Bay.

Mr Mohamed specifically asked all media covering his release to thank all those in Britain who have worked for his freedom, including many members of the British government.

He made a full statement as follows:

I hope you will understand that after everything I have been through I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery.

I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares. 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.

While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me. I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.

I am grateful that in the end I was not simply left to my fate. I am grateful to my lawyers and other staff at Reprieve, and to Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, who fought for my freedom. I am grateful to the members of the British Foreign Office who worked for my release. And I want to thank people around Britain who wrote to me in Guantánamo Bay to keep my spirits up, as well as to the members of the media who tried to make sure that the world knew what was going on. I know I would not be home in Britain today if it were not for everyone’s support. Indeed, I might not be alive at all.

I wish I could say that it is all over, but it is not. There are still 241 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo. Many have long since been cleared even by the US military, yet cannot go anywhere as they face persecution. For example, Ahmed bel Bacha lived here in Britain, and desperately needs a home. Then there are thousands of other prisoners held by the US elsewhere around the world, with no charges, and without access to their families.

And I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years. For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised 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 realised, had allied themselves with my abusers.

I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should be made known, so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured. Thank you.

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