By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
LONDON, Aug. 2 -- A 27-year-old Ethiopian man being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay alleges that interrogators in jails through which he passed before reaching Cuba repeatedly abused him physically and psychologically, his attorney said Tuesday.
Benyam Mohammed alleged that the torture took place in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan and that he was flown between those countries by American operatives, according to Clive Stafford Smith, a British human rights lawyer who said he represents about 40 Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
There is no known independent verification of the allegations made by Mohammed, who the lawyer said reached Guantanamo in September.
Following standard policy, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on whether Mohammed is at Guantanamo, or on the specifics of his claims.
"U.S. policy requires that all detainees be treated humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity in accordance with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949," Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, the spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
"It is important to note that al Qaida training manuals emphasize the tactic of making false abuse allegations," his statement said.
Stafford Smith said Mohammed's case illustrates the U.S. policy of secretly sending suspected terrorists to "ghost prisons" in countries that permit torture. "The mindless hypocrisy of this is what angers the world," he said.
Under the practice known as "extraordinary rendition," the CIA transfers terrorism suspects covertly and without judicial proceedings to third countries. CIA officials have said they receive pledges that the prisoners will not be tortured in those countries; other American officials with knowledge of renditions say that such promises cannot be enforced.
Stafford Smith said the Ethiopian-born Mohammed, who arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker in 1994, detailed the claims of torture in two three-day interview sessions with him at Guantanamo in June and July. He said Mohammed, who has a sister and brother in Alexandria, Va., and a sister in Atlanta, contacted him this year in a letter delivered by the Red Cross.
Stafford Smith provided his written summary of his interviews to The Washington Post by e-mail. Mohammed's allegations were first reported Tuesday in London's Guardian newspaper.
Stafford Smith said Mohammed left his home in London's Notting Hill neighborhood in June 2001 and traveled to Afghanistan. Mohammed told the lawyer that he had become a Muslim and was trying to kick a drug habit. He said he wanted to see if Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taliban administration might be able to help him clean up his life.
The account does not say what Mohammed did during the U.S.-led war that overthrew the Taliban after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But it says that in April 2002 he was in Karachi, in neighboring Pakistan, and was arrested at the airport there as he tried to fly back to Britain using a fake passport.
He said he was questioned in Pakistan by FBI agents, who accused him of being a top official of al Qaeda and told him they were going to send him to Jordan. "The Arabs will deal with you," said an agent who called himself Chuck, according to the account.
Stafford Smith said Mohammed told him that in July 2002 he was turned over to Americans who put him on a military plane and flew him not to Jordan, but to Morocco. There, he said, U.S. officials told him they believed he was an accomplice of Jose Padilla, who is in U.S. custody in connection with an alleged plot to set off a radiological weapon known as a dirty bomb in the United States. Stafford Smith called those allegations "total nonsense" and said Mohammed denies knowing Padilla.
At a news conference on June 1, 2004, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. said Padilla had an accomplice who had refugee status in Britain and was in custody, but Comey did not name the suspect.
Mohammed said he spent 18 months in Morocco, where he said he was beaten repeatedly and cut on his chest and genitals with a scalpel nearly monthly. "They cut all over my private parts; one of them said, it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists," Mohammed said, according to Stafford Smith's notes.
The lawyer said he had seen scars on Mohammed's body. "If the U.S. military can come up with a good explanation of how he got those scars, have at it," he said.
In January 2004, Mohammed said, he was flown to Afghanistan. He told his attorney that he was beaten in a prison there. Later he was taken to Bagram air base, where he was allowed to see the Red Cross.
Mohammed said that to stop the torture, he eventually signed a false confession saying he was Padilla's accomplice, Stafford Smith said.
Mohammed said that in September, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where, according to Stafford Smith, he is being held without charges. Mohammed's remarks to the lawyer do not allege physical torture there. But he said one interrogator, who said his name was Matthew, screamed in his ear: "I am GOD here! I can do whatever I want with you. Don't think you're safe here."