The case of Binyam Mohamed

This case, currently before the Court of Appeal, is of critical importance for us all, since it threatens Anglo-American sharing of anti-terrorist intelligence on which British lives may depend. It also illustrates the extent to which the judiciary is ready to override the judgement of elected Ministers on political and diplomatic matters which raise no issues of law whatsoever.

Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia in 1978. In 1994 he arrived in the UK from the US with his father, who abandoned him. After being housed in a hostel by Social Services, he was placed in a housing association flat, applied for asylum and was given leave to remain.

In an effort to kick an acquired drug habit and separate himself from his addicted associates, he sought help through Islam, and by the summer of 2000  was working as a janitor at an Islamic Cultural Centre. Mr Mohamed then flew to Pakistan in May 2001, using money he had saved, and proceeded by truck to Afghanistan, ‘keeping his head down’. As he didn’t have a passport, he borrowed a British passport from a friend and changed the photo. One wonders at the lack of British border controls and security checks which would allow such a crude illegal forgery to pass unhindered.

There are contradictory accounts of Binyam Mohamed’s activities in Afghanistan. He himself claims that he wished to help fellow Muslims in Chechnya and attended an Islamist training camp for that purpose only. He was in a Kabul hospital at the time of 9/11 and contends that thereafter all he wished to do was to get back to London. US authorities, however, say that Mohamed fought on the front line against anti-Taleban Northern Alliance forces and claim he was cherry-picked by al-Qaeda because of his UK residency, and received firearms and explosives training alongside the British citizen shoe bomber Richard Reid. Both versions agree that Mr Mohamed was arrested at Karachi airport in April 2002, whilst attempting to leave Pakistan, but US prosecutors claimed he planned to travel to the US, rent several flats in an apartment block and then blow it up with a timing device. (For a fuller account of US information, allegedly drawn from official US files, see blog

In 2002 Mr Mohamed was imprisoned and interrogated in Pakistan, then transferred to Morocco and the US Guantánamo prison, where he alleges he was subjected to unspeakable tortures (see Following pressure from Gordon Brown, he was released from US custody on 20 February 2009 without standing trial and was brought by special plane to the UK. He then initiated a court action against the British Government, alleging complicity by the British security services in his interrogation and maltreatment. This case includes an application by Mr Mohamed’s lawyers for the publication of all communications between US and UK intelligence services relating to his interrogation. The Foreign Secretary has appealed against a High Court judgement that seven paragraphs derived from Anglo-American intelligence sharing should be disclosed. The US Administration has threatened that disclosure could jeopardize intelligence sharing in future. (This judgement will be examined in a future Vindex article). So far as is known Mr Mohamed has not initiated an action against the US government which was actually responsible for his imprisonment and alleged torture.

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