How would you like to wake up one morning and hear that the cops are going to probe the FBI?
Notwithstanding my high regard for Scotland Yard, when I heard the news that the British police are to investigate the one-hundred-year-old intelligence service known as MI5 because of allegations of torture by a suspected al-Qaeda operative, I thought it was an April fool. It is unprecedented: most of us sleep soundly at night knowing how efficient the British intelligence services are. They have never been investigated by the police.
Sadly, in the topsy turvy world that is Britain, in which high-ranking Israelis (one assumes they are here to help British authorities tackle terrorism) are stopped at Heathrow and turned back as an alternative to being arrested and charged with “war crimes,” the news that MI5 is to be probed is for real.
Binyam Mohamed, who lived in Britain but who was, to use Don Rumsfeld’s favorite expression, “scooped up” by American authorities in Karachi, Pakistan, in April 2002 and transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention center, has registered a formal complaint against MI5 for allowing him to be tortured. There was even talk at the end of March of the British police going to the United States to interview Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney. (This was mooted on one of the talk shows; I thought I was hallucinating.)
It is a complicated story: Mohamed was born in Ethiopia in July 1978 and came to England as a young adult, where he found work as a caretaker at a London mosque led by radical imam Abu Qatada. His father, an executive with Ethiopian Airlines, had fled his native country for the United States after the rise of the Mengistu regime, but the boy was taunted at school in Washington and was brought to London. He went to Afghanistan in 2001 to “cure a drug habit” (ever heard the expression “sending coals to Newcastle“?) but was detained in Pakistan after MI5 and the CIA asked to question him about his connections with radical groups and individuals. He was reported to have been using a fake passport.
Jump to February 2009: Mohamed is freed from Guantanamo without charge and arrives back in Britain claiming he was brutalized by torturers in Pakistan, Morocco, and Guantanamo. MI5 is not implicated in torture but American, Pakistani, and Moroccan interrogators are accused of tormenting him and even cutting his genitals with razor blades.
None of this is nice and the accusations made by Mohamed suggest MI5 was complicit in interrogating him, knowing he had been tortured into confessions during extraordinary rendition. Confessions included reading a recipe for constructing an H-bomb on what he insisted was a “joke website.” What is interesting is the timescale in which Mohamed says he was interrogated by MI5; they threatened him with rendition to an Arab country where he would be tortured, but this does not fit together. The unnamed British officer who was present at his interrogation in Karachi in 2002 says it was impossible that his colleagues knew about overseas torture because American rendition practices only came to their attention some time after.
MI5 works under the premise that torture does not elicit reliable evidence. In their experience it is even known to produce false leads in order for the victim to extricate himself or herself from pain. Mohamed says that his tormentor in Morocco, a man named Marwan, was the one who repeatedly cut his genitals. It is notable that on Barbara Ehrenreich’s weblog a reader has reminded the good lady (she is the one who wanted Americans to rise up in revolutionary anger against the “Bush terror regime”) that Mohamed’s claim that he was hung by his wrists for a week would mean he would by now have lost the use of his hands.
Con Coughlin in the Telegraph laments the fact that British media anguish about Mohamed’s treatment has eclipsed the questionable activities in which it is reasonably certain he participated. Coughlin reminds the world that Binyam Mohamed had made many admissions: it is widely reported that he enjoyed watching jihadist videotapes at his London mosque, had befriended “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid, was friendly with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and knew men accused of planning the July 7, 2005, transit system bombings. Coughlin concludes that it is a sorry day indeed when Britain must ignore the forest for the trees.
Britain’s already-stretched police resources are under orders from Attorney General Baroness Scotland to be used to investigate Mohamed’s accusations against MI5 and pursue another fifteen reported cases of abuse of terror suspects by the British intelligence services.
Lest we forget the genital mutilation inflicted upon the Israeli athlete at Munich in 1972 by the PLO, the probable torture of poor old Dora Bloch in Entebbe, the cruel murder of Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair on the Achille Lauro, and the mutilation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Lest we forget the thousands of Muslims tormented by other Muslims in Iraq, where hospitals have been used as torture chambers. Lest we forget the abominable practices still in use today in third-world countries. Lest we forget the al-Qaeda “safe houses” found by coalition soldiers in Iraq, who recovered unimaginably cruel implements of torture and images of fellow Muslims at the receiving end of these abominations.
Binyam Mohamed is alive, looking well, and possibly healthier than some young men his age. Foreign Secretary David Miliband acknowledged Britain was offering him succor and Lord Carlile said, “I would expect a light and gentle touch.” Various public figures acknowledged that Mohamed should be afforded every opportunity to integrate himself back into society.
Whether he is innocent or a dangerous terrorist let free because his admissions were obtained under duress, one can only hope that the police investigation of MI5 is performed with a “light and gentle touch” so its immensely capable men and women can get on with the real business at hand: protecting the British public in the homeland. The terror threat is “the severe end of severe” in Great Britain and the idea of MI5 being probed remains, to me and my esteemed colleague Con Coughlin, nothing short of a hideous April Fools’ joke.