LONDON – A former British resident released after seven years in detention, more than four of them at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, arrived back in London Monday and issued a statement alleging that the United States government had subjected him to years of “medieval” torture.
“It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways – all orchestrated by the United States government,” Binyam Mohammed, 30, said in the statement released by his lawyers at a London news conference.
Mohammed, 30, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee released during the Obama administration, has become a symbol of international anger at the anti-terrorism practices of the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
His arrival at Royal Air Force in London early Monday afternoon ended what his lawyers call a seven-year odyssey of torture, “rendition” by U.S. authorities to secret prisons in Morocco and Afghanistan and legal limbo in a system where he was held without charge for much of his detention.
“He is a victim who has suffered more than any human being should ever suffer,” said his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who visited Mohammed a half-dozen times in Guantanamo Bay.
U.S. officials initially charged Mohammed with a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States. All charges were eventually dropped.
The government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had been petitioning the U.S. government for Mohammed’s return since August 2007.
British and European officials have been harshly critical of U.S. treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, although few European governments have expressed willingness to take any of the detainees as the Obama administration works to close the controversial facility.
“We very much welcome President Obama’s commitment to close Guantanamo Bay and I see today’s return of Binyam Mohammed as the first step towards that shared goal,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Monday.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder – who was visiting Guantanamo Monday – issued a statement that said, “The friendship and assistance of the international community is vitally important as we work to close Guantanamo, and we greatly appreciate the efforts of the British government to work with us on the transfer of Binyam Mohammed.”
Mohammed, a native of Ethiopia who emigrated to Britain in 1994, was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002 and turned over to U.S. authorities a few months later. U.S. officials accused Mohammed of traveling to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban militia, which Mohammed has denied.
In accounts provided by his lawyers, Mohammed said U.S. officials flew him to Morocco, and said he was tortured there for 18 months. Mohamed said he was beaten and had his penis cut with a razor. He said he was then transferred to a CIA-run site in Afghanistan and beaten at that site regularly before being transferred to Guantanamo in September 2004.
U.S. officials have denied taking Mohammed to Morocco and Moroccan officials deny having held him. U.S. officials have also repeatedly denied using torture against terror suspects.
Mohammed apologized for not appearing in person at the news conference, saying that for the moment he was “neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media.”
He said he wanted to speak out on behalf of the 241 Muslim prisoners he said were still being held at Guantanamo, and the “thousands of other prisoners held by the U.S. elsewhere around the world, with no charges and without access to their families.”