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Binyam Mohamed: I will fight for other prisoners

Former Guantanamo Bay inmate explains the legacy of his incarceration

Cahal Milmo,Chief Reporter
Monday 31 August 2009 00:00 BST

Binyam Mohamed, the former Guantanamo detainee, has reversed a decision to stay out of the public eye by signalling his determination to campaign for justice for prisoners at the American detention camp and highlight the lifelong effects of torture he suffered at the hands of his interrogators.

Six months after emerging as a frail and ghostly figure from the plane which brought him back to Britain from the US military prison in Cuba, Mr Mohamed last night used his first public speech since his release to explain the legacy of his seven years in detention, which he says included his "extraordinary rendition" to a prison in Morocco where his penis was repeatedly cut with a scalpel to force him to confess as an al-Qai'da terrorist.

The 31-year-old who was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain as a refugee at the age of 16, is one of 15 one-time terror suspects who have now made allegations that MI5 and MI6 colluded in their torture abroad. Mr Mohamed is suing the Government to prove that he was imprisoned and tortured with the full knowledge of the UK authorities and intelligence services.

Scotland Yard is currently investigating whether there are grounds for prosecuting any British intelligence officers involved with the case after it was revealed that MI5 supplied lists of questions to be put to him while he was being held in Morocco and elsewhere.

He revealed that he had found it difficult to re-adjust after life in Guantanamo, where he was imprisoned between 2004 and February this year.

Speaking at a fundraising event for Cage Prisoner, a campaign group for Muslim detainees held in Cuba and elsewhere, he said there was an obligation to press for the release of the remaining prisoners held without trial: "Helping people in Guantanamo, or Bagram is an obligation upon us. Whether from an Islamic or non-Islamic point of view, it is an obligation. People cannot be held for seven or eight years on grounds of suspicion alone. That is not enough of a reason."

Mohamed said he was constantly re-visited by memories of his ordeal, in particular at the so-called "Dark Prison" – a CIA facility in Afghanistan where detainees were kept in darkness and bombarded with loud pop music. For 10 months, Mr Mohammed said he was kept chained in a room in the prison as an Eminem CD played on a loop. "You have to live it to explain it. It's very hard. If I enter a room and the light turns off for some reason, I wonder if I'm back in the dark prison."

After struggling against drug addiction in London, Mr Mohamed said his Muslim faith helped him beat his craving for heroin and crack cocaine. At the suggestion of a fellow mosque member, he travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 to help other refugees and admits attending an Islamist "boot camp".

He was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002 travelling on a false passport and handed over to US interrogators who he says turned nasty when he mentioned a website he had seen with instructions for building a nuclear bomb. The website included instructions such as refining uranium by whirling it in a bucket above an individual's head.

What followed, he insists, was a catalogue of encounters with foreign intelligence agents in Pakistan and later Morocco while being subjected to tortures that included being chained to a gate for 22 hours and being cut on his genitals 20 or 30 times during interrogation sessions over two years.

Last month, it emerged in a High Court judgment that an MI5 officer visited Morocco three times during the time Mr Mohamed was being held there. MI5 insists it was unaware of his rendition to Morocco in 2002.

Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed gave a number of interviews about his treatment before removing himself from public view. But he now says the legacy of his torture and the situation of former US prisoners who are returned to developing countries without facilities to treat torture victims had persuaded to take a higher profile.

He said: "I cannot fit into society. What the world doesn't understand is that most people love to hear about torture stories. Someone was hanged here. Blood here, blood there. What remains every time you see a rope, you always go back to the time when you were hung. That doesn't go away."

The former detainee is one of several inmates who have joined the Guantanamo Justice Centre, a not-for- profit group which was launched this month to help former and current prisoners find work and secure medical treatment. "From my point of view," he said, "there's a mess that has been done and someone has to fix it."

Where are they now? Guantanamo detainees

*Moazzam Begg, 41

A former law student and the owner of a Birmingham bookshop, Begg was arrested by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002. He was held for a year in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo. Since his release in 2005, he has been at the forefront on the campaign for the closure of his former prison and is a prominent human rights activist.

*Jamil el-Banna, 57

A Jordanian citizen with refugee status in Britain, he was arrested in Gambia in 2002 and sent to the "dark prison" in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo. He was released in December 2007. Upon his return to Britain, he was detained due to Spanish claims he was an al-Qai'da member. The proceedings were dropped after a medical report found he had post-traumatic stress due to torture. He lives in north London with his five children.

*Bisher Al Rawi, 48

A former public school boy whose family came to Britain from Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein's regime, Al Rawi was arrested in Gambia in 2002. British intelligence claimed he was carrying bomb components, but they turned out to be a battery charger. Released from Guantanamo in April 2007, he now works for a human rights group and lives in south-west London.

*Shafiq Rasul, 33

One of the so-called Tipton Three, Rasul was picked up in Afghanistan in 2001, transferred to Guantanamo and released in 2004. Six months later, Rasul and two others from the West Midlands launched a $10m lawsuit against the American government, alleging it authorised the use of illegal interrogation techniques. The US has claimed they have no right to sue in American courts.

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