U.S. and Britain at Odds Over Guantánamo Inmate
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By RAYMOND BONNER
April 2, 2008
LONDON The Bush administration and the British government are at
odds over how to treat one of the last two British residents held at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials from the countries involved in the
case and his lawyer say.
Letter by lawyer Clive Stafford Smith dated March 26, 2008, addressed
to the Foreign Office. (PDF) Letter by lawyers for Binyam Mohamed
dated March 28, 2008, addressed to the Foreign Office. (PDF)
[read these files at above website.]
Over objections from the British government, the Pentagon plans to
file terrorism-related charges against the detainee, Binyam Mohamed.
It is not clear what the precise charges will be, but the Pentagon has
said previously that Mr. Mohamed was trained for months at camps run
by Al Qaeda in 2001 and that he was involved in preparing for attacks
in the United States.
American military prosecutors have told the British government that
they believe that they have a strong case against him. Prosecutors
have previously linked Mr. Mohamed to Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, senior Qaeda members who were subjected to waterboarding at
secret locations, the director of the C.I.A. said in testimony to
Congress last month.
But Britain has questioned the fairness of the military commissions
system under which Guantánamo detainees are being tried, and is
worried about what might be revealed about its intelligence agencies
if there is a trial, American and British officials said.
Mr. Mohamed's case reflects the quandary for the United States,
Britain and other countries as they seek to deal with men accused of
having undergone terrorism training and who are considered serious
Mr. Mohamed was detained in Pakistan in April 2002, and the C.I.A.
secretly took him to Morocco, his lawyers say. They say they will use
a trial to try to elicit information about the Bush administration's
policy of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are
sent for questioning to other countries, including some accused of
torture, and about Britain's possible involvement and accusations that
prisoners taken to other countries for detention were tortured.
"There is some discomfort with what the defense will try to drag out,"
a senior American official involved in the negotiations with the
British acknowledged in an interview last weekend. The British and
American officials who spoke of the case did so on the condition of
anonymity because diplomacy was involved and negotiations were continuing.
Late on Friday, lawyers for Mr. Mohamed sent by fax an "extremely
urgent" four-page letter to the British Foreign Office. One of the
lawyers provided a copy to The New York Times. The lawyers sought
information about Mr. Mohamed's rendition to Morocco, including the
names of the American personnel involved, "so that they can be traced
and interviewed or subpoenaed." This would be necessary to rebut the
American contentions that Mr. Mohamed had not been tortured, the
Mr. Mohamed, who is 29, says he was tortured in Morocco. At one point,
his interrogators sliced his chest with a razor and then made cuts on
his genitals, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith wrote in a recent book,
"Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in
Guantánamo Bay" (Nation Books). Mr. Mohamed told his lawyer that an
American servicewoman had photographed his injuries. His injuries have
not been independently confirmed.
In their letter, the lawyers also asked for information about whether
the British intelligence agency MI6 was involved in the interrogation
of Mr. Mohamed in Morocco.
The possibility that this information will come out at a trial has the
British government particularly nervous, the American official said.
The British Foreign Office declined to comment on the letter. Mr.
Mohamed, a native of Ethiopia, lived in the Washington area for two
years before he moved to Britain with his parents and acquired legal
residency. At 19, he was unemployed, drifting and abusing drugs, he
has told his lawyer. In the spring of 2001, he went to Afghanistan. He
says that he wanted to get off drugs and that the Taliban rulers had a
strict policy against drug use.
American prosecutors have said that he was trained at several Qaeda camps.
In April 2002, he was detained at an airport in Karachi, Pakistan,
with a ticket back to Britain and a false British passport. He said
that his passport had been stolen and that a friend had given him one.
His lawyer said that Mr. Mohamed was held in Pakistan for three
months, during which he was interrogated and tortured, then taken to
Morocco, where he was held for 18 months, and then taken to Guantánamo.
At one time, 15 British citizens or residents were held at Guantánamo,
but 13 have been released. One is to be sent to Saudi Arabia, leaving
Mr. Mohamed's status to be resolved.
Charges were first filed against him in 2005 but were dismissed after
the Supreme Court ruled, in June 2006, that a system of military
commissions in effect at that time was unconstitutional.
A trial now could be avoided if Mr. Mohamed pleaded guilty in exchange
for a lighter sentence, which the prosecution is pursuing, said a
person who has knowledge of the prosecutor's desire for a plea
bargain. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because talks
about a plea bargain were continuing.
Mr. Stafford Smith appears to have anticipated this. "This gambit by
the U.S. stands to embarrass the U.K. deeply," he wrote in another
letter to the Foreign Office last week. Mr. Mohamed would plead guilty
to anything at this point to end his time at Guantánamo, even "to
being the pope," Mr. Stafford Smith wrote.
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