Binyam Mohamed – what is the truth?

Binyam Mohamed has been returned, amid great fanfare, to Britain from Guantanamo Bay. Why? He doesn’t belong here at all.

As David Aaronovitch says in the Times, today, “Mr Mohamed’s story is that, as a young Ethiopian denied asylum in Britain but permitted to remain, he led an unsatisfactory life and became a drug addict. In June 2001, in an effort to kick the habit, he went first to Pakistan, then to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where he thought he’d take a look at how Islamic rule was working out. In April 2002 he was arrested in Pakistan, attempting to return to Britain.”

To expand on that somewhat, Mohamed came to Britain in 1994, claiming asylum on the grounds that his family disagreed with the ruling regime in Ethiopia. In 2000, his asylum appeal was rejected, but he was given exceptional leave to remain in the UK for a further four years. He lived in North Kensington, west London, for a while, working as a cleaner, acquiring a drug habit and studying electrical and electronics engineering.

According to Mohamed, he went to Pakistan in 2000, the year in which he converted to Islam, to kick his drug habit but, as Aaronovitch points out, it’s a hell of a long way to go for rehab. Personally, I feel that the idea strains credibility. Where did he get the money for his air fare; it’s very hard to stump up that much money – it’s currently around £400 – on the minimum wage, and after being employed only or a short time after his appeal went south; not impossible, but that expensive drug habit rather gets in the way.

He also says that he wanted to see whether Taliban-run Afghanistan was a good Islamic country (a question to which the answer depends on whether you are female, gay, a Christian aid worker, or of a questioning or critical disposition – all things that can get you beaten and/or killed under Taliban rule). And despite being involved in the heroin trade, the Taliban are extremely intolerant of addicts, which makes the claim of going to Afghanistan to get his head straight a little hard to comprehend.

I mean, we’re asked to believe that an Ethiopian addict travelled all the way from Britain to Pakistan and on to Afghanistan, just to check out Islamic rule? Really? When he could have got all the information he needed at the nearest mosque, or even online?

The Americans say he was fighting alongside the Taliban, and had been selected by al-Qaeda, on the grounds of his UK residency, for training in firearms and explosives alongside Richard Reid, he of the notorious explosive shoes. Prosecutors claimed Mohamed planned to travel to the US, rent several flats in an apartment block and then blow it up with a timing device.

Mohamed claims he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He was arrested at Karachi airport in April 2002, attempting to return to the UK – and, again, the question of money for the air-fare raises its ugly head. Mohammed claims that he was brutally tortured in Pakistan, and later in Morocco (where, he claims, British intelligence agents were involved, and in Afghanistan (CIA involvement).

If his claims are true, and they should be easily verifiable given the inevitable scars, then they should be thoroughly investigated, though I suspect it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to verify exactly who was involved – I doubt they left records.

So, here we are in 2009, and Mohamed is back on UK soil, armed with an activist lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith (and look, there’s the money question again – who’s funding the lawyer, or is it pro bono?), who is quoted as saying that Mohamed was “a victim who has suffered more than any human being should ever suffer”.

Fair comment, assuming verification of the torture claims, and to be perfectly honest, given the extent of the claimed torture, I tend to believe Mohamed – even a casual look at his body would reveal a lie – but the important thing is that he is not, nor has he ever been, a British citizen, and his right to be here expired 5 years ago. The argument that he was in Gitmo, so should take up where he left off won’t hold water, as he chose to leave this country, for whatever reason, entirely voluntarily. He does not have the right to come back.

Mohamed may be innocent of all charges, or he may be as guilty as sin and we’re nurturing a viper in out national bosom. I don’t know for sure any more than you do. Whatever the truth, though, from Cuba he should surely have been flown to Ethiopia (there’s no indication that he’s here en route to Ethiopia at all). The last place he belongs is here – he has no right of residence whatsoever.

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Update:- March 13 – just heard on the radio the the government is reviewing Mohamed’s residential status. Since that status has long since expired, there’s nothing to review. He is here illegally. Why, then, is his case being reviewed when there is every chance that his presence here represents a substantial risk, and when other people, many far more deserving, are tossed out? Just a thought…

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Stafford Smith, the lawyer, has said “One thing we can clearly say is that the great British public have the right to know about what was done to someone at the behest of the British government, as does the American people.

“I’m 100 per cent certain that the people will learn the truth in the long run.

“For the last 800 years in Britain we have had a process for dealing with accusations and it’s called a trial. In the immortal words of George Bush – ‘Bring it on’.

Back at the Times, David Aaronovitch also says “Of course, it would be easier to demand that security heads should roll if we knew that Mr Mohamed had been wrongfully detained in the first place and that he was not, and had never been, a jihadi. I have longed to have this question put directly to Mr Stafford Smith in one of his hundreds of interviews, but in vain. He did once tell an interviewer that his hypothesis was that the detainees “actually didn’t do much of anything down in Afghanistan or they were aid workers, humanitarian people…” ”

So yes, by all means. let’s have a trial and, hopefully, we will also learn the truth about what Binyamin Mohamed was doing in Afghanistan (because claiming that the Gitmo detainees were the good guys is patently absurd, as events have demonstrated – in recent weeks, two “innocent” men, once released, proved to be prominent within al-Qaeda), and how he got there, because, in court, a claim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time needs way more in the way of supporting evidence than it does in the newspapers.

Bring it on indeed.

Sources: The Times, The Telegraph, BBC News Online

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