- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

LONDON (AP) — A Guantanamo prisoner who claims he was tortured at a covert CIA site in Morocco returned to Britain a free man Monday after nearly seven years in U.S. captivity — the first inmate from the U.S. prison camp freed since President Barack Obama took office.

Binyam Mohamed flew into a British military base and was expected to be out of custody within hours.

Mohamed’s claims of torture, abuse and extraordinary rendition are at the heart of several lawsuits. Lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic are suing for secret documents they say prove the United States sent Mohamed to Morocco and that Britain knew of the mistreatment — a violation under the 1994 U.N. Convention Against Torture.

“I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares,” Mohamed said in a statement released by his attorneys.

“Before this ordeal, “torture” was an abstract word to me … It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways all orchestrated by the United States government.”

He said he wasn’t yet “physically nor mentally capable of facing the media.”

British authorities said he would undergo interviews Monday with the police, border control agents and immigration officials, who would help him apply for temporary residency.

His lawyers said they would provide money for his accommodations and living expenses.

Mohamed’s case could have far-reaching legal implications for the Obama administration and Britain, America’s closest partner during its war on terror.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected at the Guantanamo detention center Monday as the Obama administration weighs what is needed to shut the facility down.

“The friendship and assistance of the international community is vitally important as we work to close Guantanamo, and we greatly appreciate the efforts of the British government to work with us on the transfer of Binyam Mohammed,” Holder said in a statement.

Britain’s Attorney General has opened an investigation into whether there was criminal wrongdoing on the part of Britain or a British security agent from MI5 who interrogated Mohamed in Pakistan, where he was arrested in 2002.

Two senior British judges, meanwhile, have reopened a case into whether 42 secret U.S. intelligence documents shared with Britain should be made public.

Several other lawsuits are under way in the United States against a Boeing subsidiary that allegedly supplied planes for rendition flights to Morocco and for the disclosure of Bush-era legal memos on renditions and interrogation tactics.

The United States has refused to account for the 18 months Mohamed says he was in Morocco.

“I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express,” Mohamed’s sister, Zuhra Mohamed, said Monday.

The 30-year-old Ethiopian refugee has few remaining links to Britain. His brother and sister live in the United States. His parents are said to be back in Ethiopia. And his British residency that he obtained when he was teenager has since expired.

Any revelations from the lawsuits could be particularly damaging for the British government, which unlike the Obama administration, doesn’t have its predecessors to blame.

“I assure you that we have done everything by the law,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters last week when faced with questions over Mohamed’s case.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain has been asking for the return of former UK residents since 2007.

“We very much welcome President Obama’s commitment to close Guantanamo Bay and I see today’s return of Binyam Mohamed as the first step toward that shared goal,” Miliband said.

Mohamed’s family came to London from Ethiopia in 1994. They applied for asylum following the ouster of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s ouster but they were only given temporary residency.

Schooled in West London, Mohamed worked as a janitor and later became a student of electrical engineering before converting to Islam in 2001.

Shortly afterward, he said he went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to escape a bad circle of London friends and experience an Islamic society. But he was detained in the Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2002 for using a false passport to return to Britain.

For three months, he says he was tortured by Pakistani agents, who hung him for a week by a leather strap around his wrists. He says at least one MI5 officer questioned him there.

He claims he was handed over to U.S. authorities in July 2002, and then sent to Morocco where he was tortured for 18 months. According to his account, one of his foreign interrogators slashed his penis with a scalpel.

Many of the estimated 750 detainees who have passed through Guantanamo prison camp since it opened in January 2002 have reported mental and physical abuse, but few have detailed such sustained physical and mental abuse at an alleged CIA covert site.

Mohamed claims he eventually confessed to an array of charges to stop his abuse — a confession that laid the groundwork for his transfer to another CIA site in Afghanistan, where he said he was starved and beaten before being sent to Guantanamo in 2004.

In May of 2008, Mohamed was charged with conspiring with al-Qaida members to murder and commit terrorism. He was also accused in a “dirty bomb” plot to fill U.S. apartments with natural gas and blow them up.

But then in October all charges were dropped — only months after his lawyers filed a lawsuit in Britain for the disclosure of the 42 secret documents.

Two other former British residents remain in Guantanamo: Saudi-born Shaker Aamer, 37, and Algerian Ahmed Belbacha, 39.

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