Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The case of Binyam Mohamed: US charges the last Brit in Gitmo

The US have announced they have charged the last British citizen held in Guantánamo Bay. The Pentagon has arraigned Binyam Mohamed, 30, for plotting with al-Qaeda to bomb apartment buildings in the US. His defence lawyers argue that the only evidence for these charges was extorted from him under torture. His lawyers wrote a letter to the Pentagon official overseeing the tribunal system to dismiss the charges stating that all the evidence against him appears to have been "derived from coercive interrogation and torture.” Binyam is the 20th detainee selected to face the military tribunals at Guantánamo, and the fifth in the last week.

Binyam Mohamed al-Habashi
, was born in Ethiopia in 1979 and came to the UK with his father in 1995. He worked as a janitor at a mosque in west London. After seven years he applied for political asylum and was allowed to remain while his case was resolved. Binyam travelled to South Asia in 2002 and was arrested in Pakistan on a visa violation. Pakistan, then doing a lucrative trade in extraordinary rendition, turned him over to the US authorities for $5,000. Binyam asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him: ‘The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.”

US authorities flew him to Morocco where he underwent 18 months of regular torture including having a scalpel used to make incisions on his chest and penis. He was then transferred to the notorious “Dark Prison” in Kabul, Afghanistan. In operation between 2002 and 2004, it inmates called this top secret facility the “dark prison” or “prison of darkness,” where they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time.

Binyam would later describe his experiences at the Dark Prison to his attorney:
“It was pitch black no lights on in the rooms for most of the time.... They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb.... There was loud music, [Eminem’s] “Slim Shady” and Dr. Dre for 20 days.... [Then] they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. [At one point, I was] chained to the rails for a fortnight.... The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

Despite being held there for several months Binyam did not lose his sanity. However, his hopes of release were dashed when was sent to Guantánamo Bay in September 2004. Binyam has been there ever since. In November 2005, the Pentagon used the evidence they gained under torture in Morocco to charge him with conspiring to plot attacks against the US. The court papers alleged that he was an accomplice of Jose Padilla in Pakistan where they allegedly proposed a fanciful plan to al Qaeda leaders that they travel to the US to detonate a "uranium-enhanced" explosive device. Although he faced a preliminary hearing, he was never fully tried. Britain sought his release along with another four other British residents in August 2007. While the others were released by Christmas, US refused requests to release Binyam. Last week, he was charged with terrorism-related offences and is due to be brought before a military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay.

In 2003 one of Britain’s top law lords described Gitmo military tribunals as “kangaroo courts”. Lord Steyn, one of the most senior judges in Britain's highest court, said the term implied "a pre-ordained arbitrary rush to judgement by an irregular tribunal, which makes a mockery of justice". Yet mockery or no, Binyam now faces the very real prospect of the death penalty. Binyam is being represented by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and his Reprieve team who specialise in representing “prisoners facing execution at the hands of the state in the conventional criminal justice system, or those subject to imprisonment outside the reach of the law in the ‘war on terror.’”

Smith says Binyam is in a very fragile mental and emotional state. Binyam is suffering from depression and has taken to smearing the walls of his cell with his own faeces. On Friday 30 May, Reprieve delivered a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown from Binyam that castigated British intelligence services for supplying evidence to his Moroccan torturers. The letter gave a graphic account of the pain inflicted including the cuts to his penis. "I felt like I was being stung by a million bees at once,” he wrote. “The floor was full of blood.” Binyam also spoke of a desire to commit suicide as “that would be one way to end, it I suppose”. A saner way to end it would be for the US to end this obscene charade and release Binyam from baseless and immoral charges.

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