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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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According to the summary-of-evidence memo prepared for Mohamed's combatant status review tribunal at Guantánamo, Mohamed was an active participant in the plotting. He proposed "the idea of attacking subway trains in the United States." But al Qaeda's military chief, Saif al Adel, and the purported 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), had a different idea. Al Adel and KSM allegedly told Binyam that he and Padilla would target "high-rise apartment buildings that utilized natural gas for its heat and also targeting gas stations." Padilla and Mohamed were supposed to rent an apartment and use the building's natural gas "to detonate an explosion that would collapse all of the floors above."

It may have been this "apartment building" plot that Mohamed and Padilla were en route to the United States to execute when they were apprehended. In early April 2002, KSM allegedly gave Mohamed $6,000 and Padilla $10,000 to fly to the United States. They were both detained at the airport in Karachi on April 4. Mohamed was arrested with a forged passport, but released. KSM arranged for Mohamed to travel on a different forged passport, but he was arrested once again on April 10. Padilla was released and made it all the way to Chicago before being arrested once again.

The gravity of the charges against Mohamed is rarely reported in the media. The Bush administration and U.S. intelligence officials believed he was part of al Qaeda's attempted second wave of attacks on U.S. soil.

Critics charge that all of the more substantial allegations against Mohamed were trumped up, or the result of false confessions extracted during torture. But look again at the allegations. All but two of Mohamed's co-conspirators are in U.S. custody. High-value detainees such as KSM, Zubaydah, and Abdul Hadi al Iraqi are all at Guantánamo, as are two other suspects whom Mohamed met during his travels through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jose Padilla and Richard Reid have been convicted of terrorism-related charges and are serving time in the U.S. Only Saif al Adel, al Qaeda's military chief who is living in Iran, and Osama bin Laden are not in U.S. custody.

The point is that U.S. authorities should have been able to figure out with a reasonable degree of certainty just what Binyam Mohamed was up to at the time of his capture. This is true even though some of his co-conspirators were subjected to "enhanced interrogation" techniques such as waterboarding, which is understandably controversial. Based on the publicly available testimony from senior intelligence officials, such as former director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, it is clear senior terrorists such KSM and Zubaydah gave up actionable intelligence during their interrogations. In all likelihood, Binyam Mohamed's mission is something they discussed.

None of this is intended to diminish the seriousness of the abuse that has been alleged. If Binyam Mohamed was subjected to the types of treatment he and his lawyers claim while under rendition in Morocco and elsewhere, then he was tortured. Mohamed claims, for example, that he was cut with a scalpel in sensitive areas of his body. Such practices make waterboarding look rather tame and could not possibly have been necessary to make Mohamed talk.

However, we cannot now verify the more fantastic claims that Mohamed makes about his time in custody. And even if he were subjected to deplorable treatment, that would not make him an innocent who poses no threat. There are good reasons to believe that when captured he was en route to the United States to kill Americans. Before the Obama administration agrees to send him to Britain, it should have that firmly in mind.

Thomas Joscelyn is senior editor of the website Long War Journal.