British Government Preparing for Possible Return of Guantanamo Detainee

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009

The British government said yesterday that it is dispatching a team of officials, including a police doctor, to Guantanamo Bay to visit a former British resident on a hunger strike to be prepared for his return home to the United Kingdom.

The statement by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband stopped short of saying that the Obama administration has decided to release Binyam Mohammed, a native of Ethiopia whose case has been the subject of high-profile litigation in Washington and London. But the step appears to be a prelude to release, and it is one of the first overt indications that the Obama administration is accelerating the process of freeing some prisoners to meet its goal of closing the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

The administration is reviewing the cases of the approximately 245 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to decide who can be released, who can be prosecuted, and how.

Miliband said his government is concerned about the medical condition of Mohammed, who is being force-fed twice a day. He also said the Obama administration agreed to allow the British delegation to assess Mohammed's condition and report back to London. British officials have met with him once at Guantanamo Bay.

"The visit will help us make preparations for his return, should the review confirm a decision to release him," Miliband said in a statement after meeting Mohammed's U.S. military attorney, Air Force Lt. Col. Yvonne R. Bradley, who has been pressing her client's case in London this week.

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department does not discuss visits by foreign delegations to Guantanamo Bay.

Bradley warned British officials this week that her client's medical condition is critical and noted that his weight has dropped to 112 pounds. Mohammed weighed 148 when he was brought to the prison, according to military records.

Currently, 41 prisoners are on hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay and 35 are being force-fed, said Gordon, who used the term "voluntary fasting." Prisoners are restrained in a chair as feeding tubes are inserted into one nostril and down to their stomachs, according to federal court filings. A federal judge in Washington, rejecting an emergency motion from two hunger-striking detainees, ruled Tuesday that they could continue to be restrained while fed.

Mohammed was arrested in April 2002 in Pakistan and was turned over that July to U.S. authorities. He then vanished for nearly two years. His attorneys allege that the CIA flew him to Morocco and that he was tortured there so that he would confess involvement in various terrorist plots. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

U.S. and Moroccan officials deny that Mohammed was imprisoned in the north African country.

According to a filing in military court, a military interrogator who interviewed Mohammed at Bagram Air Base as well as at Guantanamo Bay said that he cooperated and provided information about training camps and individuals. The interrogator said he did not witness any abuse of the prisoner, but the meetings came after Mohammed's alleged detention in Morocco.

Britain's High Court ruled last week that some of the evidence in the case, which is held by the British government, could not be released because the United States had threatened to cut off intelligence cooperation with Britain if it was.

The Justice Department and military prosecutors had alleged that Mohammed was involved in plans to explode a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, blow up apartment buildings here and release cyanide gas in nightclubs. His lawyers dismissed the allegations as unfounded.

Those allegations were subsequently withdrawn in a habeas proceeding in federal court last year, and the Pentagon dropped charges against Mohammed that were filed at Guantanamo Bay last May.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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