Guantanamo detainee returns to Britain

February 24, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, Feb 24 – A British resident detained at Guantanamo Bay will on Tuesday spend his first full day of freedom in more than six years after returning to Britain and alleging he was "tortured in medieval ways."

The transfer of Binyam Mohamed — who was born in Ethiopia but held British residency at the time of his arrest — was the first under US President Barack Obama, who ordered the closure of the "war on terror" prison on Cuba two days after taking office on January 20.

His release came as a review of conditions at the detention camp by the US Department of Defense called for easing the isolation of some inmates and allowing them more social contact and recreation.

Dressed in casual clothes, Mohamed, 30, landed in a small plane at RAF Northolt airbase in northwest London and was escorted across the runway by officials.

He was then detained by police officers under anti-terror laws and questioned for nearly five hours before being freed and told he would face no further action.

"He’s now been released full stop, that’s the end of it," a Metropolitan Police spokesman told AFP.

His lawyer Clive Stafford Smith told reporters Mohamed then had a "tearful reunion" with his sister, who he had not seen for seven years, and was heading for a secret location.

"He just wants to go to a place we’ve got for him tonight where he can be by himself with his sister and hopefully begin to put his life together again." Stafford Smith added that Mohamed was not angry but "sad" and "grateful" for the support he had received.

In a statement released through his lawyers earlier, Mohamed said he could not face talking to the media yet and alleged that British officials had colluded with his "abusers."

"It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways — all orchestrated by the United States government."

He alleged that British officials had questioned him in Pakistan and that evidence was then used by "the people who were torturing me."

"The very worst moment came when I realised… the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers."

British newspapers expressed alarm on Tuesday over his allegations.

But they noted Mohamed was not a British citizen and insisted that while he should receive due process, the country’s national security was the main priority.

"If Binyam Mohamed is correct in saying that British intelligence officers colluded in his torture, then that must be condemned unreservedly," the Daily Telegraph said in an editorial.

"Nevertheless, this must not be used as a reason for failing to ask some searching questions about Mr Mohamed himself."

The Telegraph wrote that "if we are to be asked to believe his allegations of torture then he and his supporters should in turn be honest about what he was doing in Afghanistan."

The Times wrote that "whatever his reasons for travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Mohamed has been treated outrageously."

But the daily warned that this did not mean "that the British government can put aside all questions of national security."

Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 before being taken to Morocco and Afghanistan, and then on to Guantanamo Bay, where he spent more than four years.

He was suspected of attending an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and of plotting to build a radioactive "dirty bomb", but was never charged.

The British Foreign Office has stressed that his return does not imply he will be allowed to remain in Britain. He has been granted temporary admission to Britain.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We have got to look at the details of the arrangements, but… we will do everything in our power to protect the security of people in our country and the home secretary will take whatever action is necessary."

All nine British nationals held in Guantanamo were released in 2004 and 2005. Of the six British residents, four were released in 2007.

Following Mohamed’s release, the one British resident remaining in the detention camp is Shaker Aamer.

"We have requested from the US an offer of release and return (for Aamer) but the US government has so far declined to agree on his return to the UK," a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP.

The review of conditions at Guantanamo by the Pentagon, meanwhile, found that while the prison complied with the Geneva Conventions, in certain high-security areas "further socialization is essential to maintain humane treatment over time."

Admiral Patrick Walsh, who presented the review’s findings on Monday, said providing high-security detainees the chance for more social activity was "essential to maintain humane treatment over time."

"In our opinion, the key to socialization is providing more human-to-human contact; recreation activities with several detainees together; intellectual stimulation and group prayer," Walsh told a news conference.

The review met with criticism even before it was officially released, as rights groups cited the report and other policy moves as proof that President Barack Obama had failed to make a clean break with the previous administration on the treatment of "war on terror" suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday called the review a "whitewash," demanding an independent review of conditions at Guantanamo instead of one carried out by the same US military that runs the prison.

The Pentagon review of Guantanamo — required as part of an executive order issued by Obama last month mandating the closure of the detention camp — was released as Attorney General Eric Holder travelled Monday to the remote US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to get a first-hand look at the prison.


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