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False Martyr

Gitmo detainee Binyam Mohamed is no innocent.

11:00 PM, Feb 19, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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This past week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown found himself answering questions about a terrorist suspect held at the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The detainee, Binyam Mohamed, has become something of a martyr in Brown's nation. Daily press reports recount the horrible torture he allegedly endured while in U.S., Moroccan, and Pakistani custody. According to these accounts, the British government has refused to release evidence demonstrating that American and British intelligence officials were complicit in, if not culpable for, Mohamed's abuse.

The outrage over Mohamed's detention was fanned earlier this month when the British High Court denied a petition seeking the release of classified documents detailing his case. The petition had been filed by news outlets such as the New York Times and the Associated Press, acting at the urging of Mohamed's civilian attorney and human rights groups. All of these parties believe that the classified U.S. intelligence documents, which were shared with the British government, verify Mohamed's allegations of torture. Two judges from the High Court denied the petition, however, citing a threat by U.S. authorities to cut off vital intelligence cooperation if the United Kingdom released the classified documents without American acquiescence.

This, in turn, prompted widespread claims of a cover up. The controversy became so intense that Prime Minister Brown had to publicly refute the charge. "I assure you that we have done everything by the law," Brown said during a news conference at Downing Street on February 18. "We operate our intelligence services in the same way as every country around the world operates their intelligence services - that there's a mutual sharing of information based on trust. When that trust is disrupted or removed, then the services cannot work in the way that they want to work."

"I can assure you there is no cover up whatsoever," Brown insisted.

But the imbroglio did not end there. Press accounts have highlighted the British government's desire to have Mohamed turned over to British custody as soon as possible. And Mohamed's vocal supporters, with their demonstrations in the streets of London, will ensure that his story is told over and over again in the British press until he is released.

This public pressure will likely have an effect across the Atlantic. The Obama administration is currently reviewing the files on all of the remaining detainees in order to determine what to do with them--try them, release them, transfer them, or continue holding them without trial. This review is expected to take some time, but President Obama, who has ordered Guantánamo shuttered within one year of his taking office, is being called on to intervene in Mohamed's case. Given the public outcry and the pressure from British authorities, Binyam Mohamed may be one of the first detainees whose destiny the new administration will decide.

So, who is Binyam Mohamed? And why did the Bush administration have him detained? Answering these questions is at least as important as investigating Mohamed's treatment. Yet, the basics of his story have been obscured by the controversy. While Mohamed's allegations of abuse are repeated verbatim by a willing press, the U.S. government's allegations and evidence against Mohamed are often ignored or downplayed.

Some press reports have repeated the claim that Mohamed went to Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks for the purpose of kicking his drug habit. This is a flimsy alibi, to say the least. Why would anyone go to the heroin capital of the world to get away from drugs? In fact, there is no doubt that Mohamed traveled to Afghanistan in June 2001 to receive training in an al Qaeda camp. Mohamed admitted this to the personal representative assigned to handle his case at Guantánamo. Mohamed did not testify at his hearing at Guantánamo, but his personal representative submitted a memo on his behalf. The memo indicates that Mohamed "admitted items 3A1-4 on the UNCLASS summary of evidence." That is a reference to the unclassified summary-of-evidence memo that was prepared by the U.S. government for Mohamed's case.

The items Mohamed admitted include the following:

1. The detainee is an Ethiopian who lived in the United States from 1992 to 1994, and in London, United Kingdom, until he departed for Pakistan in 2001.

2. The detainee arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan, in June 2001, and traveled to the al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan, to receive paramilitary training.

3. At the al Farouq camp, the detainee received 40 days of training in light arms handling, explosives, and principles of topography.