British resident to be freed after four years at Guantanamo Bay
The Independent, 17 January 2009
One of the last British residents to be held at Guantanamo Bay has been told by the US government to prepare for release, according to declassified documents seen by The Independent.
Binyam Mohamed, who has been held for four years, could be freed from US custody as early as next week. He is one of three remaining detainees who claim British residency and whose return to this country would bring to an end the UK's association with the notorious camp set up to house suspects arrested in the "war on terror" after the attacks of 11 September 2001.
In a document dated 29 December but only released by US prison officials this week, Mr Mohamed, 38, says he has begun the process for his return to Britain. He writes in the declassified note to his lawyers: "It has come to my attention through several reliable sources that my release from Guantanamo to the UK had been ordered several weeks ago. It is a cruel tactic of delay to suspend my travel till the last days of this [Bush] administration while I should have been home a long time ago."
Last night, Mr Mohamed's lawyers said they were concerned for his health after it emerged that he was into the 20th day of a hunger strike which he began in protest at his continued detention. Clive Stafford Smith, director of the human rights group Reprieve, said the military at Guantanamo had obstructed lawyers' efforts to find out details of their client's medical condition.
"Binyam was literally kidnapped and taken to Morocco, Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay. Now he is being held there after almost seven years without a trial, and the military refuses to let us know when his health is threatened. It is very worrying," Mr Stafford Smith said.
Mr Mohamed, an Ethiopian who was granted refugee status in the UK in 1994, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and handed over to US security agencies before being questioned by MI5. He claims the Americans flew him to a prison in Morocco where he suffered horrific torture before his transfer to a US detention centre in Afghanistan. In 2004, he was taken to the US base at Guantanamo. All terror charges against him were dropped late last year. He alleges that Britain was complicit in his rendition and torture.
In a letter to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Stafford Smith said: "I am attaching for you, and also for the Prime Minister, copies ... of the letter from Binyam Mohamed that I received through the classification procedures late last night. Unfortunately, I have not been in the position to discuss this before now as it was only now unclassified. It reflects the fact that Mr Mohamed has been on a hunger strike since 29 December – now 17 days – in protest at the latest mistreatment. I would appreciate if the Government could redouble its efforts to secure Mr Mohamed's return to this country, to end this poor man's suffering."
The Government said that of the 250 detainees still at Guantanamo, it recognised the British residency of only two men: Mr Mohamed and Shaker Aamer, 41, a Saudi married to a British woman, who has four children living in London.
The Foreign Office said it had "offered to receive" Mr Aamer from US custody but the negotiations had ended. The British residence status of a third detainee, Ahmed Belbacha, 39, an Algerian who lived in London and once received a £30 tip from John Prescott at a Labour Party conference, is disputed by Britain. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office added last night: "Our priority has been to get Binyam Mohamed back to the UK."