Rendition Victim Binyam Mohamed Was Just Released from Gitmo. This is His Story
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
As British resident Binyam Mohamed stepped off a plane at RAF Northolt on Monday February 23, six years and ten months since he was first abducted by the Pakistani authorities at Karachi airport, it was impossible not to sympathize with the words written in a statement made by the tall, thin, slightly-stooped 30-year old, and delivered by his lawyers at a press conference.
"I hope you will understand that after everything I have been through I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain," the statement read. "Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery."
For the last three and half years, since Binyam Mohamed's lawyers (at Reprieve, the legal action charity) first released his harrowing account of his torture in Morocco at the hands of the CIA's proxy torturers, the British resident's story has, understandably, had few bright episodes. As Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's director, explained in his book Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side, during the three days in Guantánamo that Binyam related the story of his horrendous ordeal -- for 18 months in Morocco, and then for another five months at the CIA's own "Dark Prison" near Kabul, until he finally made false confessions that he was involved with al-Qaeda and had planned to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in New York -- he explained, "I'm sorry I have no emotion when talking about the past, 'cause I have closed. You have to figure out the emotion part -- I'm kind of dead in the head."
And yet, as Binyam embarks on his long "road to recovery" -- attended by his lawyers, and, mercifully, by his sister Zuhra, who flew from her home in the United States to meet him, and to fill what would otherwise have been an aching void, as Binyam has no family in the UK -- it is unlikely that the media will, in general, manage to report much of the man behind the myth that has grown up around him.
To that end, I thought it appropriate to relate a few anecdotes that bring Binyam the human being, rather than Binyam the prisoner, to life. The first comes from Stafford Smith's book, where he describes his first meeting with Binyam as follows:
Binyam was twenty-seven. He was tall and gangling, dark-skinned, originally from Ethiopia. He smiled and immediately told me how glad he was to see me. He spoke quietly, with a particular dignity. Some prisoners would take many hours of convincing that I was not from the CIA, but Binyam immediately opened up.
Of particular interest is an extraordinary chapter, "Con-mission," which relates the farcical story of Binyam's first hearing for his proposed trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, in 2006, just before the Commissions were declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's worth buying the book for this chapter alone, as it explains in extraordinary detail quite how farcical Guantánamo's rigged trial system was, and how it was exploited mercilessly by Binyam, who arranged for Stafford Smith to get him "a proper type of Islamic dress," dyed orange (he wanted a Dutch football shirt, but Reprieve couldn't find one), to make a clear visual statement in court that he was no ordinary defendant and this was no ordinary trial. He also asked for a marker pen and a piece of card, and, during the hearing, after he had thrown the judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kolhmann, off his stride by launching into a rambling monologue about justice that Kohlmann found himself unable to interrupt, he took the marker pen, scrawled "CON-MISSION" on it, showed it to the gathered journalists, and declared, "this is not a commission, this is a con-mission, is a mission to con the world, and that's what it is, you understand."
Warming to his theme, as Col. Kohlmann "was staring into the headlights of Binyam's speech and could see no way to cut him off," he continued,