Freedom Of Information: Guantanamo Briton uses Freedom of Information law

Binyam Mohamed has been held without trial by the US for six years. Now his lawyers have asked the UK to disclose what it knows about his fate, reports Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Click to follow
The Independent Online

British diplomats have been working behind the scenes to secure the release of Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident, who claims to have been tortured during his six-year detention by the United States, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Internal Foreign Office memos note that "more robust evidence" to support the torture allegations made by Mr Mohamed may emerge and that Britain should write to the US urging them to investigate the claims.

Mr Mohamed's lawyers have now contacted the Military Commission's headquarters in Washington informing the senior judge of this development in a bid to halt Mr Mohamed's forthcoming trial at a Military Commission in Guantanamo Bay, where he is still being held.

The 29-year-old Londoner, who this week was charged with terrorist-related offences, says he spent 550 days in a "torture chamber" in Morocco where he alleges interrogators used a razor blade to cut his genitals repeatedly.

Born in Ethiopia in 1978, Mr Mohamed came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1994, when he was 16. Although the claim was never finally determined, he was given leave to remain in Britain, where he remained for the next seven years. But, after working as a caretaker, he developed a drug habit and, according to his legal team, went travelling to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 in a bid to resolve his personal issues.

He was picked up in Pakistan in April 2002 as he attempted to return to Britain. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the human rights group Reprieve, says that the UK government has admitted he was questioned by British intelligence for three hours in Karachi in 2002.

In the email disclosed to Mr Mohamed's lawyers, after a request lodged on 8 May this year, an official writes to another:

There are serious allegations widely referenced in the public domain that BM was tortured whilst detained in Morocco. . . BM's lawyers also claim to have a large body of evidence in support of his allegations that he was rendited [sic] to Morocco to face torture. They no doubt intend to use this to challenge any evidence alleged to be the result of torture during his trial.

The internal correspondence later makes clear that the US had informed Britain as late as February this year that Washington had no intention "of looking into the allegations of mistreatment".

But the unnamed official adds:

Given the number of allegations in the public domain, the fact that they have now been put to us directly, and the risk that more robust evidence of mistreatment of CIA prisoners could emerge in the future, I recommend that [X] should

write to [Y] . . . and ask him to examine the allegations made by BM.

The allegation that the British has evidence to show that Mr Mohamed was tortured by the Americans is now to be tested in the High Court. A judge ruled earlier this week in favour of Mr Mohamed's application for a full judicial review hearing into the case.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Sanders said:

If it is correct that in the course of an interrogation, in which material supplied by the Defendant [HM Government] was employed, the Claimant [Binyam Mohamed] was tortured, then it is arguable that there is an obligation to disclose material which may assist the Claimant in establishing before the American Military Court that he was tortured. Whether the Court should exercise its discretion not to order disclosure can only be determined at a full hearing.