Binyam Mohamed is back in the news. You may remember him as the al-Qaeda operative who was slated to help would-be “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla conduct a second wave of post-9/11 attacks, targeting American cities. You also may not remember him. After all, the Obama administration quietly released him without charges.
Well, there’s a new chapter in this sordid tale. Mohamed is living large — taxpayer-funded large — in Great Britain. For that, we can thank the Lawyer Left’s stubborn insistence that enemy war criminals are really run-of-the-mill defendants. Actually, make that run-of-the-mill plaintiffs.
Unlike Padilla, who actually got into the United States, only to be apprehended in Chicago, Mohamed was captured in Karachi and turned over to the CIA. (Marc Thiessen provides more details about the case here
.) Mohamed was interrogated by American and British intelligence.
The U.S. Defense Department wanted to try Mohamed by military commission. Alas, Britain’s Labour government was deathly afraid of the potential for a trial to expose its complicity in “enhanced interrogation” tactics, which an international propaganda campaign had equated with “torture” — and how about a round of applause for Sen. John McCain and Attorney General Eric Holder for sharpening that arrow in every defense lawyer’s quiver? Like virtually all captured terrorists now do, Mohamed claimed to have been tortured with Saddam-style cruelty. And as is virtually always the case, to call the allegation overblown is not to do it justice. Based on disclosures in various court cases, it is now clear that Mohamed was subjected to stress — essentially, sleep deprivation. Compared to actual torture, that is trivial.
Yet, goaded by its base (the leftist and pro-Islamist contingents that now make up the Occupy London crowd), the Blair-Brown government pleaded with the Obama administration to transfer Mohamed from Gitmo to England. The fact that Mohamed, when he was captured in the midst of plotting to kill thousands of people, had been trying to board a flight to London with a fake British passport was apparently of no import. That he is an Ethiopian national who had no legal right to be repatriated to England did not matter. The same British government that slammed the door on Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamist Dutch parliamentarian, rolled out the welcome mat for the jihadist. President Obama acquiesced, and Mohamed was released — free and clear.
Yes, free and clear. The Obama administration said barely a word about Mohamed’s transfer. Odd, since this was early 2009, right when the administration was gearing up its campaign to give enemy combatants civilian trials, and Mr. Holder was here, there, and everywhere, assuring every ear that there was no terrorism case the justice system could not handle. In fact, the officials involved in the decision to release Mohamed understood full well that he would be neither detained nor prosecuted by British authorities. He was to be freed.
To grasp just how outrageous that is, a comparison is in order. After being held for years as an enemy combatant, Mohamed’s accomplice, Jose Padilla, was finally convicted in civilian court. The charges involved terrorism, but not the “9/11 second wave” plot that had led to his capture (about a month after Mohamed’s). This was not because the second-wave conspiracy was fiction. It was because the plot could not be prosecuted under civilian due-process standards. To prove it, prosecutors would undoubtedly have had to cut deals with witnesses who knew its details — al-Qaeda bigwigs such as Khalid Sheikh Mohamed. As if that prospect were not unacceptable enough, such deals require the government to disclose the intelligence debriefings of these witnesses — something that is intolerable in wartime.