Is Binyam Mohamed a Martyr?

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). He is the executive director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at FDD. He is also a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard and the senior editor of The Long War Journal. Mr. Joscelyn is a terrorism expert and most of his research and writing has focused on how al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as other international terrorist organizations, operate.

FPM: The British government has released seven paragraphs that summarize information received from the CIA concerning the treatment of Binyam Mohamed while he was in custody. Mohamed was a detainee in the “war on terror” and held at multiple locations, including Guantanamo Bay. Mohamed was released from Gitmo in 2009 by the Obama administration and has since become something of a celebrity in the UK. Mohamed claims he was tortured, especially during his time in Moroccan and Pakistani custody. The release of the aforementioned seven paragraphs has fueled a firestorm of controversy in the UK, as MI5 is accused of being complicit in Mohamed’s abuse and “torture.”

Mr. Joscelyn, who is Binyam Mohamed?

Joscelyn: Binyam Mohamed was recruited by al Qaeda a few months prior to the September 11 attacks. He traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 and was trained in al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp – the crown jewel of al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 training infrastructure. Some of the 9/11 hijackers were trained there. After 9/11, Mohamed retreated to Pakistan along with senior al Qaeda members. He then became part of al Qaeda’s post-9/11 plotting. Along with convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, Mohamed was set to take part in a plot against civilian targets inside the U.S. Padilla and Mohamed considered several plots, but had settled on an attack against a high-rise apartment building at the urging of senior al Qaeda terrorists, including September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).

Padilla and Mohamed were not successful in their plot, of course, as they were separately arrested and detained.

FPM: How do we know that Mohamed was in fact an al Qaeda recruit?

Joscelyn: Well, there are good, publicly available sources that detail Mohamed’s dossier. First, both Mohamed and his lawyer have conceded that he trained at al Qaeda’s al Farouq camp in Afghanistan. That is a damning admission because not just anyone was trained at al Farouq. This should have been enough to hold Mohamed, as other al Qaeda recruits who were trained at al Farouq received lengthy prison sentences based on that fact alone. For example, some members of the Lackawanna Six were sentenced to a decade in prison principally because of their time training at al Farouq.

Second, Mohamed admitted to his personal representative at Gitmo that he “was taught to falsify documents, and received instruction from a senior al Qaeda operative on how to encode telephone numbers before passing them to another individual.” This means that he admitted to working with at least one senior al Qaeda operative.

Third, the U.S. has in its custody a number of senior al Qaeda operatives who either trained Mohamed, or conspired with him. Jose Padilla, of course, would know what Mohamed was up to as well. Therefore, intelligence officials had the necessary witnesses in custody who could piece together the details of Mohamed’s plotting. This intelligence may not have been admissible in court, because at least some of it was certainly “coerced,” but that doesn’t mean it was inaccurate. For example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who directed Binyam Mohamed, was clearly coerced into giving up intelligence, but the information he provided led to the capture of numerous al Qaeda terrorists and stopped terrorist attacks. (See here, here, and here.) KSM was captured after Mohamed, but intelligence authorities certainly used him and other senior al Qaeda terrorists to piece together the details of Mohamed’s role in their plotting once they were in custody.

You can read good summaries of this intelligence in the military’s charge sheet for Mohamed as well as other documents produced at Guantanamo. And you can read my take on this intelligence here.

FPM: How did the U.S. first learn of Mohamed’s plotting?

Joscelyn: Top al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah gave up both Padilla and Mohamed during questioning after Zubaydah was captured in March 2002. Zubaydah had plotted with the two of them while staying in al Qaeda safe houses in Pakistan and therefore knew them well.

FPM: Did Zubaydah give up Padilla and Mohamed before or after he was waterboarded by U.S. intelligence officials?

Joscelyn: Zubaydah was waterboarded after he told authorities about Padilla and Mohamed. But it isn’t clear what other treatment Zubaydah had been subjected to at the time. There are reports that authorities used other techniques on Zubaydah. At a minimum we know that Zubaydah’s interrogations and questioning occurred under unique circumstances, as he was shot multiple times and U.S. authorities had to save his life just to question him. (I described all of this here.)

FPM: Given all of this, why did the Obama administration transfer Binyam Mohamed to the UK in 2009?

Joscelyn: We can’t say, exactly, because there is zero transparency when it comes to the Obama administration’s transfer decisions. But we do know that the British government has lobbied for the return of its citizens and residents, including detainees who the entire U.S. national security establishment believes are terrorists, repeatedly. The Bush administration clearly acquiesced in other cases, and the Obama administration may have simply done the same with Binyam Mohamed.

FPM: The UK press has written numerous articles about Mohamed and his torture claims, but I haven’t seen much written about his role in al Qaeda’s post-9/11 plotting. Why is that?

Joscelyn: Mohamed and other former detainees, with the help of their lawyers, have been able to successfully frame the press’s story in many instances. You will find that the detainees and their lawyers are frequently primary sources in the press’s coverage. Meanwhile, the intelligence officials who were responsible for tracking down and interrogating al Qaeda agents like Mohamed are either busy doing their jobs or fearful of having their reputations dragged through the mud. The result is that the coverage is very lopsided. In addition, with some exceptions, journalists don’t seem very interested in telling the story of how an al Qaeda attack was stopped after September 11. They are more interested in exposing the supposedly evil deeds of the UK and American governments, especially those committed by the Blair and Bush regimes.

FPM: That is remarkable though, isn’t it? Here, an al Qaeda agent has been turned into something of a martyr and yet if he had his way he surely would have taken part in an attack killing untold numbers of civilians. But the global left, including organizations such as Amnesty International, have embraced al Qaeda operatives like Mohamed. Why is that?

Joscelyn: I think there are two dynamics in play here. First, you have those on the left who have legitimate, principled concerns about how far the American government and its allies go in questioning any detainees. There is legitimate room for debate in this regard. But there are those within this camp who take anything detainees say at face value without questioning it, and then assume the worst of the U.S. and its allies.

The problem here is that we know al Qaeda detainees, in particular, lie about their treatment. Much of what Binyam Mohamed has said about his treatment while in custody can’t be verified. For example, Mohamed has claimed that his genitals were mutilated with a razor blade while he was in Moroccan custody. If that is true, then I think most of us would object to that, as it is not part of any disciplined interrogation regime. But we don’t know that it is true at all and could simply be a lie. The Moroccans don’t treat their detainees with kid gloves, but then again what Mohamed has claimed is beyond extreme.

The seven paragraphs that were released by the Brits apparently do not deal with Mohamed’s time in Moroccan custody, but instead deal with much less severe techniques including sleep deprivation and being questioned while shackled. It is difficult to argue that the treatment described in the seven paragraphs amounted to “torture,” even if one’s moral or ethical sensibilities are offended.

Second, there are those on the left whose ideology is rooted in a crude anti-Americanism and so they are willing to ally themselves with anyone who is opposed to the United States government. Jamie Glazov, explained this phenomenon well in his book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror. Left-wing human rights organizations frequently cross the line between principled concerns about detainee treatment into advocacy on behalf of men whose principles those same organizations certainly do not share.

FPM: Tom Joscelyn, thank you for joining Frontpage Magazine.

Joscelyn: Thank you for having me.


    For god's sake give Binyam Mohamed a bacon sandwich and tell him to call it quits.

  • Ozymandias

    The breathtaking gall of Thomas Joscelyn in presenting as fact his tissue utter nonsense about the background to the Binyam Mohamed case is really quite tedious – and serves only to highlight yet again the contempt and disdain so many in the West have for what passes as objective analysis in the United States. For a Fellow of 'The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' [a comic oxymoron if ever there was one!] to spout such high school gibberish would be cause for concern if it were remotely believable or related to the evidence which has emerged from this sorry saga to the shame of both the Us and the UK Governments and which has been made so graphically clear in the Judgment from the UK Supreme Court

    BM was a victim of the US's incredibly stupid Bounty system in place in Afghanistan at the time before being held in Bagram, rendered to Morocco and finally incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. Despite years of mistreatment & torture neither the US or UK Governments have ever had any evidence of his participation or complicity in terrorism as clearly evidenced in that he has never been charged with any crime in any court whether civil or military tribunal.

    It is a tragedy for all concerned – that the US & UK stand starkly in the dock and banged to rights for contemptible behaviour to our respective & lasting shame.

    The Rule of Law [civil not military] must be the route by which we address criminal as opposed to 'terrorist' activities – and the judgement in BM's case in London this week is an object lesson in how our Governments should not behave.

    Thomas Joscelyn – please grow up and do stop spouting this tedious immature crap under the guise of expertise and any interest in defense of democratic freedoms – it really is such bullshit

    Toodle Pip

    • davarino

      Please continue. I would love to know your thoughts and the way you think. I am sure those of us in the Us would love to know how you arrive at your insightful conclusions. It is amazing how the CIA is so anxious to pickup mohamed six pack and keep him detained just for the hell of it and not get any useful information. So your contention is that the Us kidnaps innocent people and practices interrogation techniques on them just for bragging rights? Maybe the better solution would be to interrogate these pukes out in the field and cap them when their finished, then nobody knows about it and you dont get all worked up.

      • bubba4

        "So your contention is that the Us kidnaps innocent people and practices interrogation techniques on them just for bragging rights?"

        Always with the strawman. Maybe in our zeal to "punish" the feriners that attacked us on 9/11…we picked up some people that didn't deserve it. Maybe when you offer one religious or ethnic group large sums of money to turn over "terrorists" they send you to their nearest local enemy.

        This guy might very well have been planning attacks within America….but where is the evidence. Justice still requires evidence doesn't it? I don't know about Thomas Joscelyn, but if I was on trial and the cop that arrested me presented the arrest sheet as "evidence" of my crime, I would find that a bit unjust. The Bush Administration made a mistake by hastily doing much in secret and burring the lines on torture and rendition or simply ignoring them.

        When it comes to torture…it doesn't matter if he is guilty of something or completely innocent…we shouldn't torture period.

        BTW: this guy wasn't captured on a battlefield. "Capping" prisoners is just the sort of thing we as Americans should be against. It doesn't allow for that all important "justice" thing to happen. Something you will want heaps of if you are ever put on trial for anything whether you deserve it or not.

        • davarino

          You wish me "justice", I wish you a city free of the threat of a nuclear device, or bio weapon.

  • badaboo

    What Joscelyn [so conveniently ? ] overlooks , is the fact that MANY have been released from Guantanamo , yes even by the Bush Admin ……and had returned to fight us again . But he chooses to isolate a case under the present administration , when this in fact has been going on previously .
    My Question to BOTH Administrations is : WHY haven't these dirtbags been tried by Military Tribunal , which was the very purpose for putting these people in Gitmo to begin with .???? The time for obtaining any usefull information from them has long passed , and we already know that when any are released , they go right back to jihad .

  • badaboo

    ….,and is it really any surprise that this P.O.S. would be hailed as a hero in the U.K. , where jihadis , wannabee jihadis and future jihadis are running amuck ??

    BTW …Ozymandias is living in a world of delusion .

  • Ozymandias

    Badaboo – The Age of Enlightenment gave rise to the genius of your Founding Fathers exemplary paean to the Rights of Man in your Constitution. I am still under the illusion that it continues to have lasting impact in the values it enshrines – despite all evidence to the contrary and the fact it is on life support and fading fast – but I continue to have hope.

    In this I may be deluded – but certainly not in my observations above.

    The fact that Front Page Mag has never adopted a role other than that of cheering on the amen corner of Empire and pandering to the lowest common denominator of synthetic patriotism and the American psyche as regularly exemplified by it's audience is really neither here nor there. What is sad is the singularly illiterate intellectual rigor it brings to debate – combined of course with the usual American arrogance of being utterly unable to countenance any criticism of the US or perception of how and why they are viewed with such contempt.

    If you want Muslims to stop trying to attack you – why not stop killing them
    If you want to be respected – try behaving like a good world citizen
    If you value your freedoms – respect the rule of international law
    You can destroy the world a the push of a button – but you cannot control it – it's just logistically not possible

    Maybe I am deluded in believing this might one day be possible and that you can live up to the dreams of your forefathers – and regard all men as equal – feed your own poor – educate your own sick – provide medical care for your sick – treat your elderly and vulnerable with dignity – mind your own business…..? Because right now your have no honour.

  • badaboo

    Ozy , try not sounding too intellectual , for I know you from islamic forum gawahar , you're a shill for the "muslim point of view " .
    You are and always have been a sycho-phant at Gawahar where the famed Detroit Bomber sought "understanding " , and the fact that you haven't been banned frtom that site is prove that you're an approver and lackey of the standard views spewed out there , For any disagreement or criticism at Gawahar is dealt with rather quickly …ther poster is banned .
    So save your phoney drivel about "my fore-fathers " which you are so far removed from .And "INTERNATIONAL LAW " …oh you mean like all your muslim buddies follow ?

    Screw you and Them Ozzy , I got your number pal . Taqiyya Ozzy , you practice it well and with sophistication .

  • badaboo

    So tell me Ozz, how are you doing over there in the U.K. Enjoying Choudary's rants ?

  • badaboo

    You're outta your league here ozz , for the playing field here is level , FP doesn't censor criticism . No wonder Binyam finds fame and glory in the UK , lol…but from whom ? You and your ilk ?
    I have no doubts we'll be reading about your boy Binyam soon , when blows his miserable ass up , in the act of suicide bo mbing .
    Still trying to pass yourself off as an Englishman Ozz ?

  • Ozymandias

    Baddy Babe – tch tch tch – a little sensitive are we not!!

    For the record I'm a 60 year old WASP [without the 'P'] with dual Australian/British citizenship who has spent many decades throughout Africa, Asia, Russia, Europe and the Pacific – and incidentally never heard of gawahar wotsit??!! Not to my knowledge am I an apologist for anyone or any religion either.

    Your amusingly intemperate & imaginative speculation above rather illustrates my point Baddy Boo – both as to Frontpagemagics client audience and your good self…….what fun hey? A mindset that bodes well for diplomatic resolution don't you know….

    Bysee-bye Badaboyblue

  • Ozymandias

    Oh – and by the way Baby Bad – during my Asian sojourn I spent some time in Vietnam during another of your country's disastrous foreign policy escapades where I recall well the US penchant – aside from napalming civilians amongst other things – for treatment of captured Vietcong included such minor indiscretions as tossing 'Gooks' alive out of helicopters – so you see Abu Ghraib, Bagram & Guantanamo are really no real surprise at all

    Nice people Americans

    • USMCSniper

      If course , I guess you were rooting for victory for the NVA, VC, and Khmer Rouge while in Vietnam. Well, you got you wish, and after there were 1.6 million Cambodian civilians murdered by the Khmer Rouge and almost 2 million South Vietnamese by the North Vietnamese Communists in the purges and reeducation camps from 1975 – 1978 which was more than all the casualties on all sides for the previous 13 years from 1962 to 1975. Tell me about Ho Chi Minh's massacres in Hue during Tet.
      You are soo stupid ypui don't even suspect you're stupid,

  • badaboo

    Suuuure ya did Oz . Too bad , your syntax is easily recognizable as well as your world view .
    What's that ??
    — you're a Vietnam Vet now ? LOL….so you throw around some old news bite talking points from that era …and WELLA ! Ozz is a Vietnam Vet …….Taqiyya Ozz ….Taqiyya .

    What'd you do ? pick up an old copy of Newsweek in the masjid library ?

    Give it up ozzy-boy , you gave yourself away in your first propaganda post .on this thread .
    Your views are no surprise eitrher , they are standard , gonna start on the merican Indian next ?
    You can't even face the facts of 9/11 , can't commit yourself to admittinmg it was MUSLIMS and Bin Laden . How'd you put it ?

    "some serious questions raised haven't been answered " [paraphrased ] – of course hardly anyone on IF would disagree , most of 'em still call Bin Laden "sheik " . lol….and to disagree makes one an " Islamophobe " . You pose as a moderate , but you're just as ant-west as the rest of them on IF

  • badaboo

    Oh …and btw ozz , since you mentioned Abu Graib and Gitmo , please tell me what becomes of any American -or non-muslim for that matter , who gets captured by muslim forces ?

  • bubba4

    Decapitation? Torture? Horrible…unspeakable things?

    But we aren't superstitious nutballs that want to live in a draconian hell…we are suppose to be the civilized "good guys" with laws and justice and all that jazz.

    • davarino

      Well lets just see how well that works during the next 3 to 7 years, depending on how long Obama is in office. Even if some of our cities are nuked or bio'd you will be happy as long as we were the "good guys"?

      Read him his rights Danno : )