Lawyers for Binyam Mohamed — an Egyptian-born British resident and current Guantanamo Bay detainee — have been engaged in a long-running legal battle to prove his innocence and ultimately win his release. Last week, the British High Court ruled against releasing documents describing torture techniques used against Mohamed while in U.S. custody, reportedly because the documents also prove British collaboration in his torture.
Two days ago, Clive Stafford Smith, one of Mohamed’s lawyers, wrote a letter to President Obama in an appeal to make the documents public and to inform him of his client’s case. However, the letter was sent back, with the entire section detailing Mohamed’s torture redacted, as Smith told the UK’s Channel 4 News:
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: The world has gone totally mad. We are trying to get the information to the President of the United States so he can assess whether this torture material should be made public. The censors in Washington, the military censors, won’t let their own commander in chief see it. It’s bizarre.
Watch the report:
The Guardian notes a possible motive behind the move. “It is understood US defence officials might have censored the evidence to protect the president from criminal liability or political embarrassment.”
Indeed, the documents reportedly contain “details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, ‘is very far down the list of things they did,'” one British intelligence official said.
Yesterday, the Obama administration agreed to let British officials visit Mohamed — who has been described as “just skin and bones” after a long hunger strike — at Gitmo to “prepare for his return.” “We are working as fast and hard as we can to secure Mr Mohamed’s release from Guantanamo and return to the UK. We want him to be released as soon as possible,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
UPDATE: Ken Gude, CAP’s Associate Director of International Rights & Responsibility, has a separate response to the Smith story:
The last eight years have justifiably conditioned us towards outrage, but we really need to calm down, take a deep breath, and think a little more critically about what is going on here. Clive Stafford Smith is a fantastic advocate on behalf of Guantanamo detainees that have suffered through years of tragedy, but his allegations in this instance are simply incorrect. Whatever the motivations of the DOD official that blacked out the material attached to Clive’s letter, it was certainly not to prevent President Obama from seeing it. In order for that to be true, we would have to construct a scenario in which a presidential aide brings to Obama this letter asking that specific information be de-classified, but when Obama asked what information, he was handed two completely blacked out pages and that’s the end of the story. Seriously, does that sound plausible?
The important revelation in the case in the last 24 hours is that it now looks very likely that the Obama administration intends to release Binyam Mohamed from Guantanamo and return him to the United Kingdom. Even though it is moving for his release, many are very upset with the Obama administration for continuing to assert the state secrets privilege in Mohamed’s civil cases in the United States and the United Kingdom. But again, we need to pause and ask ourselves why they are doing this. The Obama administration has absolutely no interest in “covering up” the torture and abuse associated with the Bush administration’s policies. In fact, it has already shut down the extraordinary rendition program and rejected its disgraceful interrogation practices, and in any event, there is little or nothing to cover up because we already know so much about the treatment Mohamed received. There has to be something else going on, and because those officials in the Obama administration making these decisions were fierce critics of the Bush administration, and the early actions of Obama and his team on Guantanamo, torture, and extraordinary rendition, they deserve the benefit of the doubt as they work through the mess they have inherited at Guantanamo.