Not an April Fools' Joke: MI5 Investigated for Mistreating Jihadist

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.