The Charmed Life of Binyam Mohamed


No one ever knew that becoming a terrorist would offer such an effortless path to fame and celebrity. Certainly not Binyam Mohammed.

Mr. Mohamed is today the center of British national attention, having acquired the dubious prestige of being tortured at the hands of both MI5 and the CIA.

How did he do it?  He was believed to be involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive bomb in an American or British city.  Arrested in Pakistan in 2002,  he was shackled, threatened, deprived of sleep, and questioned by officers from MI5. He was subsequently “rendered” by the CIA to a prison in Morocco, where he was allegedly subjected to torture.  Mr. Mohamed  thereafter spent six years  at Guantanomo Bay before being repatriated to the United Kingdom in 2009.

He told investigators he had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in an attempt to kick a drug addiction, but was accused of links to Al-Qaeda and charged with plotting to blow up a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the US.   The charges were later dropped when the US admitted its case was based on confessions obtained using torture.

Ethiopian-born Mr Mohamed, 31, who was granted refugee status when he came to Britain in 1994, is now alive and apparently flourishing somewhere in Devon. But at least one MI5 officer is being investigated, and could face trial, simply for asking him questions while he was held in custody in Pakistan.  And MI5 is under taack, not for what it did, but for what it allowed to occur without protest.

A U.K. police inquiry into the officer, which began last July at the request of Attorney General Baroness Scotland,  is understood to be at an advanced stage, and lawyers have discussed whether the officer could be charged under the Human Rights Act, which prohibits torture. An MI6 officer is also under investigation over an unrelated case.

But Mr. Mohamed’s true elevation to star status arrived last week when the U.K. Court of Appeal ordered the disclosure of seven paragraphs of evidence which showed that MI5 knew Mohamed was being mistreated by the CIA.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, had tried to prevent the publication of the material.  But to no avail.   In his judgement, (an unpublished draft of which was somewhow leaked to the press) Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, and the second most senior judge inthe country, found that the Security Service had failed to respect human rights or denounce torture and had engaged in a culture of suppression about the information.

Now where have we heard this before?

In the United States the CIA has come under repeated attack from Democrats and human rights organizations for its program of enhanced interrogation.   This, despite the fact that legal clearance was given for their actions.  Many of  those who performed what they thought was their duty in protecting the country, are now under threat of prosecution.  So too are the attorneys who gave them the go ahead.

Bringing calumnies down on our security services seems to be all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic these days.  Since the September 11 attacks, a succession of judgments have gone in favor of terrorist suspects – on the detention of foreign  suspects without trial, on curfew orders, on possession of extremist materials, on the weakening of control orders, on the legality of terrorist asset-freezing orders.  On each occasion, the human rights of terrorist suspects have trumped the demands of national security.

After it emerged that the country’s second most senior judge had accused MI5 of a “culture of suppression” and of misleading Parliament, the Director- General of MI5, Jonathan Evans, stated that was “the precise opposite of the truth”.  He said that accusations that MI5 colluded in torture would be used by the country’s enemies as “propaganda to undermine our will and ability to confront them”.

What exactly, did the Americans do to Mr. Mohamed?   Well, the court said,  Mr Mohamed had been deprived of sleep, shackled and threatened with the suggestion that he would “disappear” and that MI5 was fully aware of it.  He was, however, never waterboarded, never slapped and never subjected to the ” cruel and inhumane ” treatment  that the U.K. 2000 Human Rights Act proscribes.   It is difficult to argue that the treatment described amounted to “torture,” even if one’s moral or ethical sensibilities are offended.

All of this comes with a certain irony.   The Obama Administration built its electoral campaign on the idea that somehow they were more “moral” than the Bush administration by refusing to countenance the use of enhanced interrogation techniques to elicit information from terrorist suspects.  But the Obama Administration is prepared to countenance unmanned predator drone attacks on terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Why is that action, which often results inthe death of the target,  somehow morally superior to capturing them and then obtaining  information about their operations that could save  more lives?

Those who defend the policy of shooting terrorists are not excoriated for being “amoral fascists”, although it is certainly not unreasonable,  from their point of view,  to claim that killing is at least as bad as torture.  Indeed, that is exactly what pacificists do claim.  An absolute ban on killing is usually criticized for being unrealistic.   But the idea that there should be an absolute ban on the use of any form of torture now has the status of othodoxy: to question it is to put yourself beyond the moral pale.  That’s why the head of MI5 and the Foreign and Home Secretaries never do so, instead insisting that it is impossible that the security services would ever collude in torture.

Another important issue is why should anyone trust what terrorists say?

Al Qaeda detainees, in particular, routinely lie about their treatment.   Much of what Binyam Mohamed has said about his treatment while in custody can’t be verified. For example, Mohamed has claimed that his genitals were mutilated with a razor blade while he was in Moroccan custody.   If that is true, most Westerners  would object to it, as it is not part of any disciplined interrogation regime.

But we don’t know that it is true at all and could simply be a lie.   Lying , after all, is quite an art among terorrists. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself, the undisputed orgnizer of the attacks on the World Trade Center attack,  has admitted as much-  ” Thats what I do – I lie and lie and lie and lie. ” Binyam Mohamed was almost certainly schooled in the same lie factory  nd has every reason to fabricate stories about his incarceration since  he is well aware that our supine, credulous media will just lap it up.  They will always  prefer the testimony of hardened killers than the words of servants of the State.

And just because the information against Mohamed was “coerced,”  does not mean it is inaccurate.    In fact, both intelligence services agree that Mohamed was a dangerous terrorist, having trained in exactly the same al Qaeda camps as most of the 9/11 hijackers.  He had extremely valuable information and the fact that his release was ordered by the Obama Administration could prove to be a terrible blow to our ability to gather further vital information that could save American lives.

The argument is  made that such judgments represent a triumph for the rule of law and demonstrate the health of the very democracy we are seeking to protect from those who would do us harm.  But this poses  serious questions about how a liberal democracy is supposed to protect itself from people who do not play by the rules.   If the judicial establishment – egged on by the human rights lobby – routinely thwarts the security services in their vital work (its low opinion of MI5 was laid bare in letters released with the judgment), we must accept that the public’s safety may well be compromised.

Lets also not forget how the squeamishness of the West in attempting to elicit information from these killers, is having untold consequences for vital intelligence gathering.   In his new book, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe, former Department of Defense speech writer, Marc A. Thiessen, offers a penetrating account of the effectiveness of the CIA procdeures, illustrating how the information gathered from such high profile suspects as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah contributed to the fact that in  the seven years since the  9/11 attacks, not one succesful al Qaida attack was carried out against an American target anywhere in the world.

He also illustrates how preposterous it is to describe the enhanced interrogation procedures as torture while  putting paid to the notion that they were at any time illegal.  He convincingly  dismisses portrayals of the Gunatanomo Bay Detention Facility as a torture camp,  describing such an absurdity as pure propaganda from leftist critics whose first motivation is  the  health and welfare of enemy combatants rather than the safety and security of American citizens.

Thiessen demonstates how the cessation of the CIA program has immeasurably weakened the United States , making it far more vulnerable to an enemy attack for failed intelligence.  He notes that Obama admitted as much when he went to the CIA in April, 2009 to boost the morale of the agency int he wake of the release of the Justice Department memos.

” I’m sure that sometimes its seems as if it means we’re operation with one hand tied behind our back, or that those who argue for a higher standard are naive.  I understand that.   So yes, you’ve got a harder job. And so do I.  And that’s OK. “

No its not OK.   The threat of a renewed terrorist attack on Western targets is real and everpresent.  Another successful attack, as almost occured on Christmas Day, will not be the responsbility of failed intelligence.  It will be the responsibility of a political establishment, more concerned with offending moral sensibilities than with  prosecuting an aggressive campaign against those seeking to kill us.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mohamed can eat his crumpets and scones in Devon with perfect equanimity, in the knowledge that his own campaign to destroy the effectiveness of the West’s intelligence gathering apparatus is proving extraordinarily successful.  Expect to see him soon on British television talk shows hawking his latest book, The War on Terrorism:  The Lies and Deceptions Leading to the Breakdown of Your Civilzation.

It couldn’t come from a more authoritative source.

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