Guantanamo captive returned to the United Kingdom

Monday, February 23, 2009

Guantanamo captive Benyam Mohammed was returned to the United Kingdom on February 23, 2009 after years of negotiation. Benyam Mohammed's case stirred controversy for years. He was a legal resident of the United Kingdom who had come to the UK as a refugee from Ethiopia when he was a child. He explained that he had traveled to Afghanistan in an attempt to quit a drug habit he acquired in the UK.

He claimed that all the very serious allegations that he reportedly confessed to were extracted while he was being tortured. He had claimed that he wasn't held in military custody when he was first captured, stating instead that the CIA had temporarily transferred him to a brutal prison in Morocco where the interrogation techniques included mutilating his genitals. He later spent time in the CIA's network of secret interrogation centres including "The Dark Prison".

A Camp Delta recreation and exercise area at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detention block is shown with sunshades drawn on December 3, 2002. Image: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen Lewald, U.S. Army

The Bush administration eventually stopped denying that he had spent considerable time in CIA custody prior to his transfer to Guantanamo. They continued to deny he had been tortured. He faced the allegation that he had plotted with José Padilla and Majid Khan to explode a dirty bomb — a radiological weapon — in the United States.

He was one of the two dozen Guantanamo captives to face charges before a Guantanamo military commission. He was charged twice in late 2005 before a presidentially authorized commission. Two years after the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the original presidentially authorized military commissions he was charged again before a military commission authorized by the Military Commissions Act.

His lawyers initiated legal proceedings through the United Kingdom's justice system to compel the UK government to release to them its role in his detention. The Office of Military Commissions dropped the charges against him in October 2008. Benyam Mohammed was reported to have engaged in a hunger strike as a protest during the last months of his detention. His lawyers claimed his weight had dropped to a level where he was just "skin and bones", fainted during their meetings with him, and that his health was at serious risk.

All of the British citizens held in Guantanamo were repatriated by 2005. Seven long term British residents were not returned to the UK. Initially it was the British position that they had no responsibility for individuals who weren't citizens. When British resident Bisher al-Rawi's story that he had been an MI5 informant started to be confirmed, there was public pressure for his return.

In 2006, a frustrated member of the team negotiating Al Rawi's return leaked that the process had become stalled because the Americans were insisting that they would only release Al Rawi if the United Kingdom was prepared to accept all the former British residents and keep them under round the clock surveillance. After his repatriation to the United Kingdom Mohammed spent a few hours being debriefed by British security officials before he was set free. Three former British residents remain in detention in Guantanamo: Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Beltacha and Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed.


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