By Peter Finn and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 20, 2009
A former British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be flown home early next week, marking the first transfer of a Guantanamo detainee by the Obama administration, according to a source involved in the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.
The British government had pressed the new administration to make the case of Binyam Mohammed a priority. The release of the Ethiopian native could come as early as Monday, the day Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is scheduled to visit the military facility with top Justice Department officials who are leading a review of the cases of the approximately 245 detainees held there.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "as a matter of long-standing policy, we do not discuss detainee transfers and releases until they occur." Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the United States "is continuing to engage actively" with British officials on Mohammed. They are also discussing another former British resident, Shaker Aamer, a Saudi detainee married to a British woman, but U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said they regard him as "dangerous" and unlikely to be released.
Mohammed's case was a source of tension between the United States and Britain. Britain's High Court said this month that it was reluctantly sealing information related to Mohammed's allegation that he was tortured in Morocco, adding that the United States had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information was made public.
"We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence . . . relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be," Justices John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones wrote in a ruling.
Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002 and some months later was turned over to U.S authorities. Mohammed alleges that he was flown to Morocco and tortured there to extract confessions that he was involved in various terrorist plots. He was flown to Guantanamo Bay in 2004 after spending nearly two years in secret custody.
U.S. officials have never confirmed that Mohammed was flown to the North African country, and Moroccan officials deny having held him.
U.S. officials had alleged in a habeas corpus proceeding in federal court that Mohammed was involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, but the accusation was suddenly withdrawn in October. Defense attorneys said the allegation, which has been raised and dropped against a number of defendants, including U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, was spurious and based on false confessions.
The Pentagon also dropped charges against Mohammed that were filed in Guantanamo Bay last May.
Mohammed was recently visited by British officials, including a police physician who persuaded him to end a hunger strike. Officials in Britain have said Mohammed faces no charges there and will be released upon his return.
Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.