By Julie Sell
LONDON – Despite years of denials, new questions are being raised about Britain’s possible involvement in the torture of a detainee now on a prolonged hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Both an American military lawyer who’s seen classified documents on the case and the head of a special parliamentary committee said Tuesday that the British government might have been complicit in the alleged mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed. The former British resident was seized in 2002 and held in several countries – including Morocco, where he claims he was tortured – before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2004.
Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, a U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend Mohamed, said that British intelligence agency “MI5 was involved a long time ago” in the interrogation of her client.
“They were feeding certain information to his interrogators when he was in Morocco,” said Bradley, who’s in London this week to lobby members of Parliament to press for her client’s release and his return to Britain.
Meanwhile, Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament and the head of a committee investigating extraordinary renditions – the international transfer of suspected terrorists by the U.S. – said he’s also convinced that Mohamed was “severely tortured” during interrogations and that British officials had a role in his mistreatment.
Tyrie said the official line on British involvement in torture “has gone from flat denials to a succession of admissions that there was involvement.” The latter have come in the form of court documents, the most recent being last week’s ruling by a British high court.
Tyrie also said Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, which has broader authority than his own, “appears to have been misled” about Britain’s role in interrogations and torture of American detainees when it was preparing an official report on the subject in 2007. That report cleared Britain of any wrongdoing, saying the CIA never told British officials where detainees were being held or how they were being treated.
It emerged last week that 42 classified documents seen by the British court and Mohamed’s lawyers had never been passed on to the intelligence and security committee when it was researching Britain’s role in the case the case.
A possible probe of British intelligence agencies is “under consideration” by the United Kingdom’s attorney general’s office, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. She couldn’t provide a timetable on the conclusion of its work. Another member of Mohamed’s legal team, Clive Stafford Smith, said that last fall he offered to provide the attorney general with documents to advance the inquiry if they were needed, but they have never requested them.
Under Britain’s Criminal Justice Act it is against the law for British officials to commit or be complicit in acts of torture anywhere in the world. Violation of the act can lead to life imprisonment.
Bradley, who’ll speak before several parliamentary committees and meet Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday, has suggested that there could be a “conspiracy” to keep her client in Guantanamo Bay in hopes that he might die there and never tell his story publicly. Mohamed is among a group of prisoners on a long-term hunger strike, and Bradley said there’d been a “drastic” deterioration in his health when she saw him two weeks ago on a regular monthly visit.
Bradley said she “applauds” the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantanamo Bay and send the remaining detainees home as soon as possible, as well as Britain’s willingness to let him settle here.
But Mohamed’s continued detention and stories about other abused prisoners suggest to her that not all officials have yet adopted the new policy. “Somewhere in the middle people need their mind changed to get along with the program,” she said. “But Mr. Mohamed doesn’t have months or years to give up his life for this to trickle down.”