Living up to promises made during his campaign, President Barack Obama not only signed orders on the handling and interrogation of Guantanamo Bay inmates, but also set out to enforce the release of those who had been wrongfully arrested and charged with terrorism. Binyam Mohamed was released as a result, but whether his life will be politically manipulated, wrought in social prejudice or return to normal, the world may or may never know. But for now some questions are staring us in the face.
Binyam, an Ethiopian national who arrived in the United Kingdom at age 15 lived legally as a British resident, under an asylum cover, until his arrest in Pakistan in 2002. The 22 year old man would be hauled around the world by various secret agents in dire need of terrorist information, during which (according to Binyam), he would be “tortured in medieval ways, all orchestrated by the United States…” until he turned 30, missing nearly eight essential years of his life. His hope that British intelligence would come to his aid after having been open with them during his interrogation in Pakistan were dashed when he realised that “the very people who (he) had hoped would come to (his) rescue … had allied themselves with (his) abusers”.
This last statement led a news reporter, on the night following his arrival in the UK, to question Clive Stafford-Smith, his lawyer, and another associate whether Binyam had not bitten the very hand that feeds him and whether an ex-convict would find his bearings among a population who might look at him suspiciously. In response, his defence team made it clear that charges against Binyam Mohamed had been dropped because they were simply unfounded, arguing that an innocent person wrongfully locked away in prison does not make him a convict as much as dropping a man into the sea does not turn him into a fish.
Obama is striving to save the US from an unparalleled alienation it has suffered in relation to the defunct “war on terror”, while keeping his promise to close down Guantanamo Bay, by virtue of his country’s change of government. However, its strongest ally in the “war on terror”, the British government, — albeit a change in its Prime Ministerial appointment — has remained the same (party-wise). This makes it incumbent on the British government to focus on a plan that would publicly display Gordon Brown’s government’s severance from Tony Blair’s position on the so-called “war on terror”.
Putting the British position in terms which reveal a renewed agreement with United States against the maltreatment of terror suspects, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said “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 towards that shared goal.” He also indicated that he was pleased Mr Mohamed was returning to the UK.
However, the foreign Secretary’s “pleasure” remains questionable after a statement from the Met Police indicated that upon his arrival Mr Mohamed had been detained at RAF Northolt under border regulations and questioned for four hours as well as other claims that Mr. Binyam had been allowed into the U.K “at least temporarily”. Does this question the real reason for bringing him back into the UK. Is his return there being used to score political points? Is his residential “limbo” as a matter of his unintentional 7 year absence and asylum status a threat to his future?
Binyam who arrived in the UK when he was only fifteen would, under normal circumstances, be in his 16th year as either a permanent resident or a British national — a fact which led some journalists to presume that he was British upon his release – but for the error of an unwarranted charge his status has become controversially “temporary”. According to a commentator, this “temporary” status will allow the British government and media enough room to slip out and “shift blame on another country’s national should the political point scoring go haywire… although he might not be able to return to Ethiopia given his asylum status.”
In effect, several Ethiopians have claimed that their country does not have any formal ties with Binyam after he fled to the UK, claiming that he was facing persecution at home. Some blogs have even gone as far as questioning his conversion to Islam while in the UK. It is also believed that his whole family left Ethiopia in 1994.
Head of the British government, Gordon Brown, has so far declined to delve into the details of any restrictions that may be imposed on Mr Mohamed, but has declared that: “We will do everything in our power to protect the security of people in our country and the home secretary will take whatever action is necessary.”