In a shocking revelation just posted at UK Guardian, Binyam Mohamed's attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who is also director of the legal charity Reprieve, reports that "substantial parts" of a memo, attached to a letter to Barack Obama, documenting evidence of Mohamed's torture at the hands of CIA agents and their extraordinary rendition proxies, were blanked out so the president could not read them. Who did that?
US defence officials are preventing Barack Obama from seeing evidence that a former British resident held in Guantánamo Bay has been tortured, the prisoner's lawyer said last night, as campaigners and the Foreign Office prepared for the man's release in as little as a week....Smith's letter to Obama can be read here (PDF).
Stafford Smith tells Obama he should be aware of the "bizarre reality" of the situation. "You, as commander in chief, are being denied access to material that would help prove that crimes have been committed by US personnel. This decision is being made by the very people who you command."
Scott Horton at Harpers reviewed the known and published history of Binyam Mohamed in a column today criticizing the Obama administration's decision to use "state secrets privilege" in arguments before the Ninth District Court of Appeals in order to dismiss a lawsuit by Mohamed and four others against Jeppesen Dataplans, Inc., the aircraft company that worked with the CIA on the latter's extraordinary rendition program.
Binyam Mohamed is a 30-year-old Ethiopian who was granted political asylum in Britain in 1994. In 2002, he was seized by Pakistani authorities and turned over to American intelligence officials in connection with the Bush Administration’s extraordinary renditions program. He was shuttled between CIA-operated facilities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Morocco. During this period of American-sponsored detention, according to court papers, Binyam Mohamed was “routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution, and death.” He is now reported to be close to death in a prison cell in Guantánamo.In his letter to Obama, dated February 9, 2009, Smith wrote (I have transcribed from the PDF -- and a big H/T to skdadl at FDL/Emptywheel.):
Dear President Obama:And the memo was censored. I can't reproduce it here, but you can see it at the link above. But I can tell you that everything is blacked out after the header, a full two pages worth of black paragraphs. The recipient to the memo is also redacted. The title of the memo is "Re: Torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed by US personnel."
I am writing with great urgency concerning the rendition and torture of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner represented by our charity. His name is Binyam Mohamed, and he is a British resident.
You will doubtless have been informed about Mr. Mohamed's torture -- he was abused in truly medieval ways over a period of more than two years in Pakistan (at the behest of the US), then again in Morocco (where he had been rendered by the CIA), and then in the Dark Prison in Kabul.
There has been a firestorm in the media of our closest ally, the United Kingdom because, according to two British judges, the Bush Administration "threatened" to withdraw national security cooperation with the UK if the judges ordered the release of materials concerning the torture of Mr. Mohamed in US custody.
The British judges bowed to this 'threat'-- but suggested at the end of their judgment that your administration might reconsider the position taken by your predecessors....
Since we, at Reprieve, are US lawyers with appropriate security clearances, we have access to this classified material. We have therefore assembled a memorandum that collates the evidence of torture in question. It is attached.
... for now, to deal with the British judges' request, we are submitting this information to you with no reference to any agent's name, or even the location of the abuse. Thus, as the British judges suggested, there is nothing in the memo that divulges material that should be considered classified.
We are submitting this letter and attachment to the Privilege Review Team established by the Department of Defense to deal with these issues....
If the DOD is unwilling to forward this material to you, then we will send you only what we are allowed to send you -- which will be a copy of this letter and a redacted version of the memo illustrating the extent to which it has been censored.
What the hell is going on here? Is Obama in charge of the military or not? The Guardian article explains:
It is understood US defence officials might have censored the evidence to protect the president from criminal liability or political embarrassment.Understood by whom?
This news comes only days after some other news from Guantanamo throws some doubt over who exactly is in control of U.S. military detainee and torture policy.
In an article today, Andy Worthington asks "Who's Running Guantanamo?"
On Jan. 20, the answer to that question seemed obvious. In his inaugural speech, with George W. Bush standing just behind him, President Obama pointedly pledged to "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" – a clear indication that, as he promised in a speech in August 2007, he would dismantle the extralegal aberrations of the Bush administration's "War on Terror"....Worthington goes on to describe a struggle within the Pentagon to defy Obama's stay on prosecutions as it pertained to Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri. Ultimately, the convening authority of the military commissions at Guantanamo dismissed charges against al-Nahiri, though he is charges can be re-filed again later.
President Obama requested the military judges at Guantánamo to call a halt for four months to all proceedings in the military commissions at Guantánamo....
The day after, he signed his first executive orders, stating that Guantánamo would be closed within a year, upholding the absolute ban on torture, ordering the CIA to close all secret prisons, establishing an immediate review of the cases of the remaining 242 prisoners in Guantánamo, and requiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ensure, within 30 days, that the conditions at Guantánamo conformed to the Geneva Conventions....
As Bush appointees and Cheney proteges muck around the Pentagon and the Naval Base at Guantanamo, Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed's attorney, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, reports deteriorating conditions at that facility, with "savage beatings," forced extractions from inmate cells, and forced feedings in an effort to quash a mass hunger strike among inmates. Over 20% of all inmates at the facility are currently on hunger strike.
... although Bradley's account indicates that the crisis in Guantánamo is such that ongoing discussions about implementing the Geneva Conventions should be replaced by urgent intervention to address the prisoners' complaints (and alleviating the chronic isolation in which most of the prisoners are held would be a start), the conditions in Guantánamo have been met with a resolute silence from the Pentagon and the White House.We must start asking some serious questions about how the transfer of power is really going. To what degree is the Pentagon and CIA, or elements within these organizations, obedient to the command of the putative commander-in-chief? What will Obama do, if anything, about such blatant flouting of authority? The press has already had public reports of ongoing abuse at Guantanamo, and yet the White House remains silent. What did Obama think when he saw the redacted memo addressed to... him? What are we to make of this?
Will it really take another death in Guantánamo – the sixth – to provoke a response?
Besides the injustice and substantial issues involved in the Binyam Mohamed case, something bigger seems at stake here. The stink around this case grows and grows larger and larger with every day. With the passage of the stimulus bill (for better or worse), let us hope more attention will be drawn to what is going on with national security, as the government scrambles, or so it seems, to cover up crimes of hideous magnitude.