From the UK, we get a Guantanamo-related story that is so ridiculous you just have to read it – with a little additional context. The story concerns six former Gitmo detainees who claim the British government was complicit in their “torture.”
The Telegraph and The Sun (see here and here) are reporting that British taxpayers are expected to shell out £30 million to lawyers who are working on an inquiry into the former detainees’ torture allegations. The inquiry is expected to last seven years (!), during which time the lawyers will review documents totaling hundreds of thousands of pages and rack up massive legal bills in the process.
According to the Telegraph, lawyers working for the government’s defense are expected to take in £20 million, while lawyers working for the former detainees will take in approximately £10 million. Incredibly, the lawyers for the six detainees are being subsidized by British taxpayers.
If they win, the six former Gitmo detainees could take in as much as £500,000 each, or £3,000,000 in total – a far cry from the total amount earned by the dozens of lawyers involved, but still a handsome sum.
Let’s take a look at the six detainees in question.
The most notorious is Binyam Mohamed, who was recruited by al Qaeda in 2001 and, according to U.S. intelligence, slated to take part in an attack on the American homeland with co-conspirator Jose Padilla in 2002. (For a review of the case files on Mohamed, see here and here.) Padilla and Mohamed conspired with a who’s who of al Qaeda, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and other senior al Qaeda terrorists.
Mohamed admitted to his personal representative at Gitmo that he trained at al Qaeda’s al Farouq camp, and his civilian attorney conceded this much as well. Along these lines, The Sun notes that Mohamed admits “spending 45 days in a training camp in Afghanistan,” but “he insisted he did not learn bomb-making or any other terrorist skills.”
Right. The truth is, all anyone learned at al Farouq were “terrorist skills.”
Padilla sits in jail. But because Mohamed claimed refugee status in the UK at one point, the British government agitated for his release from Gitmo. The Obama administration finally acquiesced last year. So, as a reward, the British government is now embroiled in a massive lawsuit. That’s lawfare for you.
Remarkably, the British press has passed on Mohamed’s ridiculous cover story. The Sun writes: “He said he turned to Islam to help beat heroin and crack cocaine addiction and had gone to Afghanistan to see the ‘pure’ form of the faith being practised.”
Of all the places Mohamed could go to kick his heroin habit, the Taliban’s Afghanistan – heroin capital of the world – was not exactly a natural choice. But this flimsy alibi is enough to convince some.
Mohamed was captured shortly after Padilla. He claims that he was tortured and British intelligence officials knew about it, thus he is suing. In particular, Mohamed claims that when was rendered to Morocco he was subjected to various forms of torture, including having his genitalia cut with a razor. If true, this is certainly horrible and objectionable. But we don’t know that it is true at all. Mohamed, a trained al Qaeda operative, could simply be lying or at least exaggerating the severity of his treatment while in custody. And the evidence released thus far does not come close to substantiating Mohamed’s most serious allegations.
In a bit of related news, Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded to Mohamed’s charges late last month. “The UK has the finest intelligence services in the world,” Brown said, according to an account in the Daily Record. “It is the nature of the work that they cannot defend themselves against many of the allegations made.”
In other words, former detainees are free to allege whatever they want, whereas intelligence professionals can’t respond because they are either busy doing their jobs or the truth resides behind a classified wall. This creates an information vacuum that current and former detainees, as well as their lawyers, are more than happy to fill.
As for the other five detainees suing the British government, their profiles are troubling as well. The five are Bisher al Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, and Martin Mubanga.
Bisher al Rawi and Jamil el Banna worked for London-based Abu Qatada, who has rightly been called Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man in Europe.” Qatada is an influential al Qaeda cleric who has been at the center of a deportation dispute for years. He has been tied directly to terrorists around the globe.
Al Rawi and el Banna were detained in Gambia in November 2002. Prior to that time, they were well-known to British intelligence officials. According to a UK investigation completed in 2007:
Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna were known to the Service prior to their detention in The Gambia. Whilst in the United Kingdom, both were in contact with a number of individuals considered by the Service to be Islamist extremists, including Abu Qatada, the radical cleric…
British intelligence described el Banna as:
…a Jordanian Palestinian veteran of the Afghan-Soviet war and…assessed to be Abu Qatada’s financier. [He] is in close contact with members of [two North African terrorist groups].
Al Rawi was known to be:
…an Iraqi extremist who is a member of Abu Qatada’s close circle of associates. He has previously come to our attention for his financial activities…
Richard Belmar was an al Qaeda recruit who traveled to Afghanistan for training in 2001, after hearing Abu Qatada speak. During his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo, Belmar admitted he “received basic weapons, war tactics, and navigation training at a terrorist training camp” and that he received “training in the assembling and disassembling of the AK-47” at a house in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Belmar conceded that he trained at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq camp, where Binyam Mohamed also trained, but claimed that he didn’t know the camp was for terrorists and thought it was just used for “military training” for Muslims.)
U.S. intelligence and military officials concluded that Belmar swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden. Belmar denied this during his CSRT, but said he saw bin Laden “at a group meeting.” Belmar added that the terror chieftain “was far away” and Belmar “had no contact with him.” Despite Belmar’s denials, the fact that he was at a meeting attended by bin Laden in 2001 is telling.
Gitmo officials alleged that the fourth detainee who is suing the British government, Omar Deghayes, was a longtime jihadist who first joined the cause in Bosnia in 1993. Deghayes would later travel to Afghanistan, where he was allegedly trained at the Khalden training camp, which was run by senior al Qaeda terrorists. Gitmo officials also alleged Deghayes “had a good relationship with Osama bin Laden” and the “last time” he met bin Laden “was during the last days of the Taliban regime in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.” Senior al Qaeda operatives reportedly identified Deghayes as a co-conspirator and someone who trained in Afghanistan.
A foreign government service told U.S. intelligence authorities that Deghayes and another individual deposited $225,774 in an account held at Bank al Taqwa on December 22, 1994 and received $45,762 from that same account on May 25, 1996. Bank al Taqwa, which is based in the Bahamas, is a known Muslim Brotherhood account that funnels money to terrorist organizations. The U.S. has designated the bank a terrorist front.
Finally, Gitmo officials alleged that Martin Mubanga joined al Qaeda in October 2000, received weapons and “urban warfare” training at the aforementioned al Farouq training camp, and then served on the front lines near Kabul, Afghanistan. In late 2001, Mubanga traveled to Zambia with “forged documents provided by a facilitator.” He was detained there in March 2002, as he was allegedly preparing to travel to the U.S. While in custody, Mubanga reportedly “stated that he was tasked to look into a list of 33 largely New York-based Jewish organizations” and “he received instructions to carry out violence against one, if not all, of the groups.” During his CSRT at Gitmo, Mubanga attempted to retract these admissions, claiming that he was under “excessive duress” when he made them.
These are the men who have launched a multi-year, multi-million dollar inquiry in the UK. Some will be quick to accept their claims of abuse and torture at face value, even though they have every incentive to exaggerate or invent their stories. After all, the UK government is currently investigating itself, and there is far less attention being paid to who these men really are.
From al Qaeda’s perspective, this is lawfare at its best. For those who oppose al Qaeda, it is lawfare at its worst.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.