Being a lawyer for a man who is wasting away before your very eyes is no easy matter. I represented Binyam Mohamed for more than three years and it was painful to watch his decline. I saw the six-foot, one-inch Binyam shrivel away to his present, alarmingly emaciated eight stone and nine pounds - the hunched man we saw leaving the plane at RAF Northolt yesterday.
A combination of refusing food, being on all-out hunger strike, being depressed, and living in a constant state of hopelessness and uncertainty, led to steep downward spirals, both in his physical and mental condition. At times, Binyam’s overall health was in such peril that I long worried he’d come out of Guantánamo either in a coffin or insane. So, his safe return to the UK is a huge relief.
How Mr Mohamed came to this predicament is worth recalling. In April 2002 Binyam was stopped by officials at Karachi International Airport for allegedly possessing a false passport. Binyam found himself arrested, interrogated and dragged into the netherworld of the “war on terror”. He was soon handed over to Pakistani agents (presumed to be members of the country’s notorious secret police, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency) and taken to an undisclosed place of detention where he was tortured - including by being hung from straps attached to the walls and beaten and having a gun pointed at his chest with the threat that the trigger would be pulled unless he talked.
Within days, US agents appeared and Binyam’s long journey into the hidden world of torture and rendition began in earnest. We also know that during May 2002 British officials in the form of MI5 officers joined their US intelligence partners. They took part in interrogation sessions and turned a blind eye to the fact that Binyam was being illegally detained and denied a lawyer. According to Binyam, an MI5 officer who questioned him was well aware that the US intended to move him to a third country, most likely an Arabic one where he’d be further mistreated and tortured to make him “cooperative”.
At this stage a clandestine CIA “rendition” operation began. Some three months after first being stopped at the airport, Binyam was now in the hands of CIA agents who had him illegally flown out of Pakistan to Morocco. It was an 18-month-long nightmare. In a secret Moroccan jail cell he was subjected to levels of sustained brutality rightly described by my co-counsel Clive Stafford Smith as “medieval torture”. Among the worst of the abuse was the barbaric ritual of slashing Binyam’s genitals on a monthly basis with a razor-type instrument. A battery of mistreatment - sustained beatings, sleep deprivation, death threats, sexual abuse - led Binyam to tell his captor-interrogators whatever they wanted to hear.
Binyam’s torment continued after he was again rendered to the notorious “Dark Prison” in Kabul, Afghanistan, and then again to Bagram, before further transportation in shackles to Guantánamo where, until yesterday, he was held for nearly four and a half years. He’s back in Britain a damaged and abused man but also one who has never been put on trial and never had his day in court
I took on the role of military lawyer to Guantánamo detainees firmly believing that justice would be pursued and a full and fair trial would be had for all.
This illusion quickly fell apart. I learned that charges and allegations were absolutely untrue. Many of the most serious charges were either sheer inventions or were at best grossly exaggerated to fit a story that the CIA and perhaps the White House wanted a fearful American public to hear. The whole process was, as Amnesty International has succinctly put it, “a travesty of justice”.
Since April 2002 Binyam Mohamed has suffered a variety of torments. The fact that two democratic governments had a hand in allowing any of this to happen in the first place is alarming. Binyam’s seven-year ordeal is over but his freedom comes years too late. Both the US and the UK should have brought this about a long time ago. These governments must now acknowledge and address their role in this fiasco and allow the full truth of this appalling case to be known.
But for now I look forward to spending time with Binyam Mohamed again, not as a political prisoner wrongfully imprisoned in Cuba but as a free man on British soil.
Lt Col Yvonne Bradley is a US military lawyer