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Binyam Mohamed

Nationality: Ethiopian (British resident)
Date of birth: 24 July 1978
Place of birth: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Aliases: Talha al-Kini, Talha al-Nigeri, Ben, Benjamin Ahmad Muhammad, John Samuel, Fouad Zouaoui, Muhammad al-Habashi, Nabil, Binyamin Zouioue

Capture: Karachi, Pakistan, 12 April 2002
 
SSCI prisoner number: 95

Entered CIA custody: 22 January 2004
Period of CIA custody: 110-119 days
Left CIA custody: 11 May 2004 – 20 May 2004

Detained: Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay

Current status: released, as of 23 February 2009

 

Timeline of Key Events

12-13 April 2002
Capture and detention, Karachi Airport

13-20 April 2002
Detention, Landi Prison, Karachi

20 April - 19 July 2002
Detention, ICI facility, Karachi

19-21 July 2002
Transfer and detention, Special Branch facility, Islamabad

21-22 July 2002
Rendition, Islamabad - Rabat, Morocco

22 July 2002 - September 2002
Detention, Temara Prison, Morocco

September 2002 - 21 January 2004
Detention, Unknown site, Morocco

21 January 2004
Rendition, Rabat, Morocco - Kabul, Afghanistan

21 January 2004 - May 2004
Detention, Dark Prison, Kabul

May 2004
Transfer, Dark Prison - Bagram Airbase

May - 19 September 2004
Detention, Bagram Airbase

19 September 2004
Rendition, Bagram Airbase - Guantánamo Bay

19 September 2004 - 23 February 2009
Detention, Guantánamo Bay

23 February 2009
Release

 

 

Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian national who had been legally resident in the UK since 1994. He had travelled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, supposedly in an attempt to overcome a drug addiction. On 12 April 2002, he was arrested by Pakistani officials in Karachi Airport while attempting to return to the UK.

Pakistani immigration officers detained Mohamed at Karachi Airport before transferring him to Landi Prison, run by Pakistani prison officials. He was held there for seven days, and was not interrogated or tortured. On 20 April, Mohamed was transferred to an interrogation centre run by Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) in Karachi, and was held there for three months. At this location he was held in a cell 2m x 2.5m, and hung from the ceiling for a week in the ‘strappado’ position (where the detainee’s feet barely touch the ground). While in the ISI facility, Mohamed was interrogated by four FBI agents, three of whom were identified as ‘Chuck’, ‘Terry’ and ‘Jenny’. During their interrogations of Mohamed, they threatened him with torture by foreign security forces. According to a declassified version of Mohamed’s testimony to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the interrogator ‘Chuck’ threatened: ‘If you don’t talk to me, you’re going to Jordan. We can’t do what we want here, the Pakistanis can’t do exactly what we want them to. The Arabs will deal with you’. ‘Terry’ also threatened him with transfer to Israel or Jordan, and even to the British: ‘The SAS know how to deal with people like you’.

When the Americans were not present, Mohamed was beaten repeatedly with a leather strap. At one point, a Pakistani pressed a gun into his chest and waited: ‘I knew I was going to die. He stood like that for five minutes. I looked into his eyes, and I saw my own fear reflected there. I had time to think about it. Maybe he will pull the trigger and I will not die, but be paralyzed. There was enough time to think the possibilities through.’ After that incident, ‘Chuck’ came into the room, said nothing, but just stared at Mohamed.

Mohamed claims that he was also interrogated by two MI6 officers, one of whom identified as ‘John’. According to Mohamed:

They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar.’ I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.

According to a heavily-redacted report from the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee published in July 2007, MI6 had testified behind closed doors that it had had no contact with Mohamed at any point. MI5, however, did admit that one of its officers interrogated him while in Karachi, but ‘denies that the officer told al-Habashi [Mohamed] he would be tortured’. In subsequent investigations regarding UK complicity in Mohamed’s torture, that officer became known as Witness B. According to testimony heard by the Committee, ‘the officer [Witness B] reported that he did not observe any abuse and that no instances of abuse were mentioned by al-Habashi’.

However, court documents since released demonstrate that MI5 in general – and almost certainly Witness B in particular – were aware of Mohamed’s mistreatment by the US in Pakistan, before Witness B travelled to Pakistan to interrogate him. This, Mohamed’s lawyers have argued, amounts to British complicity in his mistreatment. A summary of the 42 classified CIA documents handed to MI5 regarding Mohamed’s treatment was included in a High Court decision concerning Binyam Mohamed v Secretary of State in August 2008. However, this section of the decision – which ran to seven short paragraphs – was redacted from the open judgement on request by the Foreign Secretary, citing national security concerns. Further legal action eventually saw the decision to redacted these findings overturned, and in February 2010 the paragraphs were released as an annex to a judgement by the Court of Appeal which dismissed an attempt by the Foreign Secretary to keep them classified.

The Seven Paragraphs

It was reported [to the Court] that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.

v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM [Mohamed] had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.

vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and "disappearing" were played upon.

vii) It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews

viii) It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the interviews were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering.

ix) We regret to have to conclude that the reports provide to the SyS [security services] made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment.

x) The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.

 

On 19 July, after three months in the ICI facility, Mohamed was transferred by air to Islamabad, on board a civilian flight. On landing, he was transferred to a cell at a Special Branch facility until the evening of 21 July. At about 10pm that evening, he was taken to what he describes as a military airport in Islamabad with two other detainees. This is likely to have been the Pakistani Air Force base at Nur Khan / Chakala, which is co-located with Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport. There he was turned over to the Americans, and subjected to the CIA’s standard procedures for carrying out a rendition. He was stripped naked, photographed, searched, had a suppository inserted into his anus, and was then dressed in a tracksuit, shackled, blindfolded, had ear defenders placed over his head, and was strapped to the seat of an aircraft. Flight data and associated documentation demonstrate that Mohamed and the two other detainees were transferred on board the CIA-owned Gulfstream V jet with registration number N379P. The aircraft departed Pakistan in the evening of 21 July, and flew direct to Rabat, in Morocco, arriving in the early hours of 22 July. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Binyam Mohamed’s rendition from Pakistan to Morocco.

For 18 months, between 22 July 2002 and 21 January 2004, Binyam Mohamed was held and tortured in Morocco. The account that he provided to Clive Stafford Smith sets out in great detail his treatment, a summary of which is provided here. He was first held in Témara prison, which he described as containing a series of semi-underground buildings, each of which contained three cells, a guard room and an interrogation room. While in Témara, Mohamed was subjected to what he describes as a ‘softening up process’. The guards would ask him questions, and would threaten him with the torture to come: ‘They’ll come in wearing masks and beat you up. They’ll beat you with sticks. They’ll rape you first, then they’ll take a glass bottle, they break the top off and make you sit on it’.

The questions asked during the interrogation sessions revolved around Mohamed’s acquaintances in the UK, and he was shown photos of various people who had visited a mosque in London where he had worked in 2000 and 2001. In response to this, Mohamed said to the Moroccan interrogators: ‘I’m not Moroccan, it has nothing to do with you. And if the Brits have questions, they should ask themselves, not you’. One of the interrogators replied: ‘Why do you think the Brits sold you out to us so cheaply? Why do you think they sent you here?’ According to Mohamed, the questions asked during these sessions could only have come from British Security Services. Indeed, the investigation by the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, published in heavily-redacted form in July 2007, included testimony from the Security Services stating that, other than Witness B in Pakistan, no other British agent had contact with Mohamed during his secret detention, and that UK intelligence was unaware that he had been transferred to Morocco. However, it did conclude that ‘there is a reasonable probability that intelligence passed to the Americans was used in al-Habashi’s subsequent interrogation’.

During the second week in Témara, Mohamed was visited by ‘Sarah’, who identified herself as Canadian and said she was meant to play the role of a ‘third party’ between him and the Moroccans and Americans. Mohamed thinks that she may have been American, however. ‘Sarah’ continued to threaten Mohamed with torture: ‘If you don’t talk to me, then the Americans are getting ready to carry out the torture. They’re going to electrocute you, beat you, and rape you’. ‘Sarah’ also brought in what she described as ‘the British file’, with pictures of British people that they wanted to know about. Then, on the night of 6 August, the torture began:

They came in and cuffed my hands behind my back. But then three men came in with black masks, some kind of ski masks that only showed their eyes. They had military trousers and different coloured shirts. When they came in my head stopped. I ceased really knowing I was alive. One stood on each of my shoulders and the third punched me in the stomach. The first punch… turned everything inside me upside down. I felt I was going to vomit... It seemed to go on for hour... I was meant to stand, but I was in so much pain I’d fall to my knees. They’d pull me back up and hit me again. They’d kick me in the thighs as I got up. I vomited within the first few punches.... I could see the hands that were hitting me. They looked like the hands of someone who had worked as a mechanic or chopped with an axe.... They just beat me up that night… I collapsed and they left. I stayed on the ground for a long time before I lapsed into unconsciousness. My legs were dead. I could not move. I awoke still on the floor. I’d vomited and pissed on myself.

The beatings continued over the following days and weeks, interspersed with interrogations: ‘They’d say there’s this guy who says you’re the big man in al Qaeda. I’d say it’s a lie. They'd torture me. I’d say, okay it’s true. They'd say, okay, tell us more. I’d say, I don’t know more. They’d torture me again’. During this time, Mohamed also began to be tortured with a scalpel:

One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once and they stood for a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan [the lead torturer] seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and stat another. They must have done this 20 or 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over... They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.

Once this form of torture started, Mohamed was subjected to it about once a month until he was transferred out of Morocco. He also says that there ‘were even worse things, too horrible to remember, let alone talk about’, and that these things happened about once a month as well.

It became like a routine. They’d come in, tie me up, spend maybe an hour doing it – they used to be very slow, deliberately slow. One would cut me, they’d take a rest. They’d have a cigarette, talk in some Moroccan dialect that I couldn’t catch. Then another would take his turn. They never spoke to me, not a word. Then they’d tip some kind of liquid on me – the burning, the stinging, was like grasping a hot coal.

At some point in September 2002, Mohamed was moved by car to a different facility, where he was held until January 2004. At this site, he was subjected to loud music played all day and night into headphones strapped to his ears. He remembers Meatloaf, Aerosmith and Tupac going round and round, as well as the sound of pornographic films. For eighteen months, he suffered extreme sleep deprivation, sometimes going 48 hours without sleep. He was also exposed to extremes of cold and unsanitary conditions, had his food laced with drugs, and when he undertook a hunger strike in protest, he was strapped to a mattress and forcibly injected with drugs. The scalpel torture continued, approximately once a month.

In the evening of 21 January 2004, Binyam Mohamed was taken by van to the airport. There he waited for about two hours, before being handed over to the Americans and subjected to the CIA’s standard rendition procedures. He was then transferred on board the CIA-owned Boeing 737 with tail number N313P, and flown direct to Kabul, Afghanistan. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Binyam Mohamed’s rendition from Morocco to Afghanistan.

Detainees in the Dark Prison, 2003-2004 (aliases by which they were known while at the site in brackets):

Once in Afghanistan, Mohamed was placed in a truck and driven to the ‘Dark Prison’, a secret CIA prison just outside Kabul. He was held here for about four months, until late May 2004, and subjected to repeated interrogations and torture by the CIA. It was pitch black for most of the time, with no natural light at all, and the guards came by with torches. Mohamed was hung from the ceiling at various points, and interrogated most days, in particular about the Jose Padilla and the ‘dirty bomb plot’. Loud music was played on a loop through speakers in the cell, including Slim Shady and Dr Dre. Other sounds were played too, including ghostly laughter, children screaming, and other ‘horror’ sounds. This was played incredibly loudly, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. As Mohamed has testified, ‘They used this music to torture us. It was blasting all around. There were speakers in every cell. There was hardly any way to sleep. It was like a perpetual nightmare.... it was meant to drive you nuts. There’s a prisoner here in Guantánamo who was there who had totally lost his head’.

Another detainee who was held in the same facility as Mohamed was Khaled al-Maqtari, and he has provided a detailed list of who was detained in each cell during the first few months in 2004, along with a floor plan of the facility. This list is similar to the one provided by Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khalid al-Sharif in interviews with Human Rights Watch, as well as details provided by Mohamed Bashmilah. Drawing on this information, it is possible to surmise the detainees in the prison in early 2004.

In May 2004, Binyam Mohamed allowed outside for the first time in two years: ‘it was like being given chocolate.’ Shortly thereafter, he was transferred by helicopter with other detainees, ‘tied like hens going for slaughter’, on a flight lasting 20-30 minutes. He was blindfolded and had head phones placed over his head for the duration of the flight. Three of the detainees held in the Dark Prison with Binyam Mohamed – al-Sharqawi, bin Attash and al-Kazimi – were also transferred from Bagram Airbase to Guantánamo Bay with him in September 2004. This suggests that these were at least some of the men transferred alongside Mohamed in May 2004.

From May to September 2004, Binyam Mohamed was held at Bagram, and describes being subjected to one 12-hour interrogation and various other 6-hour interrogations, during which he was forced to sign a confession regarding an association with Jose Padilla, whom Mohamed had never met.

On 19 September 2004, Binyam Mohamed was flown with eight other detainees - including bin Attash, al-Sharqawi and al-Kazimi - to Guantánamo Bay on a US military aircraft with call-sign RCH948y. While held in Guantánamo, Binyam Mohammed continued to suffer mistreatment in the forms of beatings and denial of medical care.

Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo Bay, back to the UK on 23 February 2009.

 

Investigations and Accountability

In May 2007, Binyam Mohamed one of three plaintiffs (later joined by two more), in a case filed against Jeppesen Dataplan alleging complicity in their rendition and torture. Ultimately, however, the case itself was not heard in court, after the US Government intervened, asserting ‘state secrets privilege’ and claiming that the litigation would damage national security interests. Click here for further discussion of this case, and a collection of relevant documents.

 

Further Reading

FBI Involvement in the Abuse of Binyam Mohammed
Clive Stafford Smith/Reprieve, August 2005

Rendition
Intelligence and Security Committee, July 2007

Declaration of Clive Stafford Smith in Support of Plaintiffs’ Opposition to the United States’ Motion to Dismiss
Binyam Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., December 2007

(Click here for full documents in this case, including exhibits supporting Stafford Smith's testimony)

“Human Cargo”: Binyam Mohamed and the Rendition Frequent Flier Programme
Reprieve, June 2008

Adding Insult to Injury
Reprieve, July 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C