By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 9, 2009
LONDON, March 8 -- Opposition lawmakers on Sunday called for a judicial inquiry into allegations that British intelligence agents participated in the "extraordinary rendition" and torture of a British resident who was held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other locations for nearly seven years.
The allegations were made by Binyam Mohamed, 30, in a newspaper interview published Sunday in which he told his story publicly for the first time. Mohamed, who was released without charges last month, said the British government actively cooperated with U.S. officials in his rendition and torture despite its repeated denials.
Mohamed told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that during 18 months of CIA-controlled captivity in Morocco, when his captors repeatedly sliced his chest and genitals with a scalpel, interrogators questioned him about photos and information contained in British intelligence files they showed to him.
Mohamed also supplied the newspaper with details of two telegrams, which he obtained through a U.S. lawsuit filed by his lawyers, allegedly sent from British intelligence officials to the CIA proposing questions that should be asked of Mohamed.
Two members of Parliament -- Dominic Grieve, a Conservative Party spokesman on justice issues, and Edward Davey, spokesman for the Liberal Democrats -- called for a judicial inquiry.
Mohamed is the first Guantanamo detainee released during the Obama administration. He was originally charged with plotting a radioactive "dirty bomb" attack against the United States. But last year, U.S. officials dropped all charges against him. His case has become a focus of international anger at U.S. practices in the "war on terror."
U.S. and British officials have denied using or participating in torture.
"We abhor torture and never order it or condone it," the Foreign Office said in a statement, noting that the matter has been referred to the attorney general for investigation.
U.S. officials have never acknowledged taking Mohamed to Morocco; Moroccan officials deny having held him.
In the interview, Mohamed said that he was born in Ethiopia and that his father was an executive with the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines. When he was 14, his family was forced to flee because of political upheaval, and they ended up in a suburb of Washington.
Mohamed did not say exactly where he lived, but he said he was the victim of racist bullying at school. "I didn't like the U.S. at all," he said. "It just didn't feel right for me there, and I wanted to get out."
Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed's lawyer, said that Mohamed's sister lives in Northern Virginia and that his brother is a physician in Minnesota.
Mohamed told the newspaper that in 1994 his father brought him to London, where he sought asylum. Although Mohamed was just 16, he said his father left him there alone and returned to the United States. Over the next seven years, Mohamed said he dropped out of school and was a heavy user of marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
Mohamed said he traveled from Britain to Afghanistan in 2001 to learn about the "pure" form of Islam he had heard was being practiced by the Taliban government. Mohamed said he was hoping religion could help him kick his drug habit.
He said that he was never particularly religious, but that he was angry about Russia's treatment of Muslims in Chechnya. He said he spent 45 days in a training camp in Afghanistan, with the intention of possibly going to Chechnya.
"I would never have taken up arms against British or American soldiers, let alone attacked civilians," he said. "I wanted to protect civilians, not kill them."
Mohamed said he was in Kabul when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred and fled to Pakistan as the U.S.-led coalition prepared to invade. He was arrested in April 2002 trying to fly to Britain on a forged passport.
Mohamed told the newspaper that as an asylum-seeker in Britain, he could not apply for a new Ethiopian passport and had been unable to obtain a British travel document. So he said he borrowed a genuine British passport from a friend and substituted his own photo.
He said an American who called himself "Chuck" and who said he worked for the FBI came to Pakistan to question him. Mohamed said that he asked for a lawyer, and that "Chuck" told him: "The law's changed. There are no lawyers. Either you're going to answer me the easy way or I get the information I need another way."
He said his Pakistani captors chained him and beat him for weeks, and put a gun to his head in a mock execution. During that time, Mohamed said, he was also interviewed by a man named "John" from MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency.
Mohamed said he was then flown to Morocco on July 21, 2002, bound, gagged, blindfolded and forced to wear a diaper. During interrogations there, Mohamed said, he finally told them "what they wanted to hear."
To stop the torture, he said, he made false confessions to the dirty-bomb plot, to obtaining a false passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and to having met Osama bin Laden 30 times.
In January 2004, he was taken to a CIA prison in Afghanistan. He said that for weeks on end he was chained in total darkness with a single rap music album, by the U.S. artist Eminem, blaring 24 hours a day.
In Afghanistan, he said, he was often kept chained in painful positions. "The longest was when they chained me for eight days on end, in a position that meant I couldn't stand straight nor sit," he told the newspaper.
"That was when I came close to insanity," he said. "It seems like a miracle that my brain is still intact."
He was then flown to Guantanamo, where he spent more than four years before being released last month.
Details of Mohamed's treatment in custody are summarized by U.S. officials in a section of a British High Court document that the British government has refused to release.
Foreign Minister David Miliband said that releasing the document could damage Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States.