Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Secrecy surrounds Guantanamo man

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

The case of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident held in Guantanamo Bay, has already caused a political storm in Britain.

Binyam Mohamed
Binyam Mohamed's case may become clearer when he returns to Britain
The waves of that row are now being felt right here in Washington.

The key question is whether Mr Mohamed was subjected to torture. His lawyers are in no doubt, claiming he was beaten while in custody in Pakistan, before being secretly flown to Morocco for interrogation and torture.

It is alleged that his brutal treatment there included having his genitals slashed with a scalpel. The lawyers and Mr Mohamed himself claim that the mistreatment continued while he was held in US custody, first in the "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan, then in Guantanamo where he is still being held.

British Foreign Office officials, accompanied by a Metropolitan Police doctor, are now preparing to fly out to Guantanamo to examine the claims and could arrive as early as next week.

But already the US military is trying to get out its side of the story. The Pentagon has always said it does not condone or practice torture but has thus far provided little detail about Mr Mohamed's treatment.

It has not even admitted that he was flown to Morocco for interrogation as part of the CIA's secret programme of extraordinary rendition.


But last night the US military hit back against the torture allegations. A senior US military interrogator who says he interviewed Mr Mohamed on six separate dates in 2004 at Bagram, and then a further 14 times after his transfer to Guantanamo, has submitted a sworn affidavit to a Washington court.

The interrogator's name and some other details have been edited out of the 19 pages of sworn statement seen by the BBC. Crucially, it does not give any detail of Mr Mohamed's time in Morocco.

I asked Mr Mohamed about the scar and he explained that the injury was the result of a fire involving kitchen oil when he was very young
US Army interrogator's evidence

But the statement paints a very different picture of Mr Mohamed's treatment. The US army interrogator - who first encountered Binyam Mohamed at Bagram airbase on 21 July 2004 - says that he was "not aware that anyone at Bagram took coercive, threatening or violent action against Mr Mohamed during this period".

He says their initial discussion was about the Ethiopian national's treatment: "Mr Mohamed informed me that he was being treated well at Bagram and that he was receiving appropriate medical care and religious accommodation. I did not notice any physical bruising or marks on Mr Mohamed's person."

The interrogator, who has served in the US Army for 18 years, talks about Binyam Mohamed's "polite and co-operative demeanour" as he was asked about allegations that he had trained at an al-Qaeda camp. He says: "I knew Mr Mohamed had attended Al-Farouq [the camp's name]."


He claims the detainee drew a sketch of the camp and after a number of sessions provided a statement about his activities. "Mr Mohamed was polite, courteous and respectful throughout the process of writing his statement," the interrogator says.

Mr Mohamed's lawyers have consistently denied US claims that he has links to terrorism or had been trained at an al-Qaeda camp.

When Mr Mohamed was transferred to Guantanamo in late 2004 the sessions continued. The unnamed interrogator says that when he asked Mr Mohamed about his health "he did not raise any allegations or concerns with me about physical abuse or mistreatment at Guantanamo."

David Davies MP with US military lawyer Yvonne Bradley
US military attorney Yvonne Bradley wants MPs to highlight the case
In their meetings he tried to provide the detainee with various items including a book by Charles Dickens, he claims, plus an extra pair of socks and a pillow.

At one point he alleges noticing "what appeared to be healed burn scars on Mr Mohamed's right arm. I asked Mr Mohamed about the scar and he explained that the injury was the result of a fire involving kitchen oil when he was very young. I did not notice any other physical bruising or marks on Mr Mohamed's person, and Mr Mohamed did not identify any other scarring, bruising or injuries during my interviews with him".

Separately two US officials have told the BBC that Mr Mohamed has been medically examined and no evidence was found that his genitals had been slashed.

The "interviews" with this army interrogator ended in December 2004 when he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. The interrogator says that towards the end of their meetings Mr Mohamed requested "time to think about whether he wanted to co-operate with the Government".

Mr Mohamed is currently on hunger strike in protest at his treatment. His US military defence lawyer who saw him last week describes him now as "skin and bones".

Even if the sworn statement from the US army interrogator is an accurate full account, it still barely lifts the heavy veil of secrecy surrounding Binyam Mohamed's treatment - particularly with regard to what happened in Morocco.

Soon British officials will have the chance to speak to Mr Mohamed. The Pentagon still insists no decision has been taken to release him, but Mr Mohamed's lawyers hope this is the beginning of the process which will see him returned to the UK.

Only then may we begin to understand more about his case.

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