Binyam on the BBC: publicity and betrayal

Well, he hasn’t exactly got Max Clifford working for him, but after his big Mail On Sunday interview at the weekend we’ve now got his first broadcast interview today: Binyam on the BBC.

Several other big human rights cases I’ve worked on (Kenny Richey, Moazzam Begg, British men tortured in Saudi Arabia) have followed roughly the same pattern. High-profile return to Britain, some kind of behind the scenes negotiation (probably not a “bidding war”!) and a big interview on This Morning, Channel 4 News or in the Guardian.

It’s the same with Binyam Mohamed. Mid-market Sunday and now the BBC Today programme. Some people are sniffy – or worse – about all this. But what do they expect? Are people who’ve experienced human rights abuses supposed to operate by a separate code to everyone else – no publicity, and god forbid they should receive payment for giving interviews to media outlets that then splash them as “exclusives”.

But what did Binyam say on the BBC today? Well, having followed the case fairly closely I reckon that in addition to his basic account (family move from Ethiopia to USA then UK, troubled youth, desire to clean up life by going to “pure” Islamic country, torture and interrogation in Pakistan then Morocco) he said at least two new things.

First: he estimates that “70% of the questions” put to him (between torture sessions) in that secret jail in Morocco came from the UK, as they were about specific things like – who he knew at college, the exact location of his street etc.

Second: he was shown “hundreds” of photos of people from the UK, being asked what he knew about them. “Were they people he knew?”, asked the BBC reporter Jon Manel. “No, they were people I didn’t know”, replies Binyam.

It all adds up, claims Binyam, to a thoroughgoing case of British involvement in his illegal detention and torture. A sense of betrayal by the British authorities is how Binyam clearly experienced their controversial involvement. In Pakistan an MI5 officer – “John” – reckoned he was “going to help me”, says Binyam. Instead he seems to have set him up for more torture.

What next? There have again been political calls for an independent inquiry into the Binyam case and other UK “war on terror” cases. Is it going to happen? As Chicken Yoghurt says, at the moment it’s almost a case of expecting the chief suspect to investigate himself. But it’s a democracy, right? Sometimes democratic governments have to allow their dirty laundry to be impolitely rummaged through.

(Amnesty background here, including an appeal for other, still-held Guantánamo detainees. Also, if you feel the urge – please send a text to the BBC News Channel on 61124 expressing your concern and calling for an inquiry. They’re apparently getting a big response to the story, so it will be good to add to that. Here’s my matching tweet).

Meanwhile, as it happened, the Mail On Sunday made no payment to Binyam Mohamed last week. Instead it made a donation to the Helen Bamber Foundation.

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