CNN.com - Pentagon IDs?suspected terror accomplice - Dec 10, 2005
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Pentagon recently filed court papers identifying a 27-year-old Ethiopian national as an accomplice of terror suspect Jose Padilla.
But as Binyam Ahmed Muhammad waits for his case to be referred to a military panel, he claims the charges against him are based on coerced confessions and torture.
The Pentagon's court papers allege that Muhammad, a detainee at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, joined Padilla in early 2002 in Pakistan.
There, they allegedly proposed to al Qaeda leaders that they travel to the United States to detonate a "uranium-enhanced" explosive device, possibly in Washington.
Padilla, 35, is the accused American al Qaeda operative confined as an "enemy combatant" for more than three years in a Navy brig in South Carolina. A federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, indicted him last month on terrorism charges unrelated to the alleged "dirty bomb" plot.
Lawyer: Charges are 'rubbish'
Muhammad's attorney says the allegations raised in the Pentagon's court papers are false.
"It's absolute rubbish in my opinion," said London attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who represents Muhammad and more than 30 other Guantanamo detainees as the legal director of Reprieve, a British human rights organization.
"He has no idea who Jose Padilla is. He was never knowingly in the same place as him," Smith said.
Padilla's alleged accomplice has never been publicly named by Justice Department officials. However, the government's allegations against Muhammad are detailed in an unclassified military combatant review board report viewed by CNN and in the terrorism conspiracy charges made public by a military commission last month.
In the indictment returned November 17, Padilla is accused of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and providing material support to terrorists.
He was added as a defendant to an existing case against four other men accused of forming a "North American support cell" of a global "violent jihad" movement.
The indictment, however, made no mention of the "dirty bomb" allegations the Bush administration cited initially to detain Padilla.
Padilla is formally charged with little more than attending al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000. Muhammad is not mentioned in the indictment.
From Ethiopia to Pakistan
Muhammad's path to Guantanamo Bay began in Ethiopia. When he was 14 his parents fled the nation's civil unrest and made their way to England, where they sought political asylum.
Three siblings went to the United States and eventually became naturalized citizens. In 1994 Muhammad was granted permission to remain in England while his asylum claim was considered.
He lived in an apartment in northwest London, attended classes at a local college, worked at an Islamic heritage center and practiced kickboxing.
As Smith explains it, based on information gathered at five meetings with his client at Guantanamo, Muhammad was a recent convert to Islam, trying to kick a drug habit, when he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the summer of 2001.
"He wanted to see the Taliban with his own eyes," Smith said, referring to the fundamentalist Muslim regime that controlled Afghanistan and gave safe harbor to al Qaeda before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The U.S. government alleges in its conspiracy charge, filed November 8, that Muhammad attended the terror group's al Farooq camp, later received explosives training and took up arms with the Taliban.
"I am not saying he never went to any Islamic camp," Smith said. "He didn't go to any camp to blow up Americans."
In Afghanistan, the government alleges Muhammad met top al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who allegedly sent him to Pakistan to learn to assemble remote-controlled detonators for bombs to be used against U.S. forces.
En route to Pakistan with Abu Zubaydah, Muhammad allegedly met Padilla at a madrassa, or religious school, according to the military's charges.
'Dirty bomb' discussed?
Inside a Pakistan safe house, the trio allegedly discussed the "dirty bomb" and other alleged terrorist attacks in the United States -- attacking subway trains, blowing up a gas tanker or spraying cyanide in nightclubs, according to the military.
Muhammad and Padilla found instructions to assemble their radioactive "dirty bomb" on the Internet, the government alleges.
In early April 2002, according to the government, Muhammad and Padilla met top al Qaeda planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Karachi, Pakistan, and were given a different mission -- blowing up apartment buildings by tapping into the natural gas lines attached to their heating systems.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly gave Muhammad $6,000 and Padilla $10,000, and the pair headed to the Karachi airport, according to the military charges.
Smith said Muhammad, who couldn't speak Arabic at the time, denies ever meeting Zubaydah or Khalid Shaikh Muhammad.
Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan and turned over to the United States in March 2002; Padilla was arrested upon his arrival back in the United States two months later. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was captured in early 2003.
Muhammad held since 2002
Muhammad was taken into custody at the Karachi airport on April 10, 2002, when he tried to board a flight for Zurich with a friend's British passport. Muhammad said he had lost his travel documents.
Muhammad said he was detained in Pakistan for 3-1/2 months and interrogated by British and American agents.
"I refused to talk in Karachi until they gave me a lawyer," Muhammad said, according to Smith's notes of their meetings.
FBI agents replied, "The law has been changed. There are no lawyers. You can cooperate the easy way or the hard way," Muhammad told his lawyer.
Muhammad said his Pakistani jailers used a leather whip on him and beat him with its handle and once pressed a semi-automatic gun into his chest.
In July 2002 Muhammad was moved to Morocco, where he claimed he was held for 18 months in small cells, never saw the sun, was repeatedly interrogated and then was tortured. There were beatings, times when he was handcuffed for hours with headphones blaring rock music by Aerosmith and rap music by Tupac Shakur. Harsher tactics followed, his lawyer said.
"He was tortured with razor blades to his genitals," Smith said. "My client, who is not stupid, was willing to say whatever they wanted him to say."
Muhammad told Smith that his interrogators instructed him to follow a script. He was shown a photograph of Padilla.
"They said if you say this story as we read it, you will just go to court as a witness and all this torture will stop," Muhammad told Smith. "I eventually repeated what was read out to me."
In January 2004 Muhammad was sent back to Afghanistan, held in a Kabul jail for five months and, in May 2004, moved to Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.
During his incarceration at Bagram last year, Muhammad claimed, he was forced to sign a false confession he did not write.
"The story was something like this: First, Jose Padilla and I were meant to have good connections, because we both spoke English. We were meant to have been hanging out together," Muhammad said, according to Smith's notes of their meeting. "By the time I was in Bagram, I was telling them whatever they wanted to hear."
Details come to light
On June 1, 2004, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey held a news conference and publicly announced what the Justice Department called a "Summary of Jose Padilla's Activities With Al Qaeda."
The six-page, single-spaced document remains the most detailed account to date of the alleged "dirty bomb" and apartment bombing plots. The accusations largely relied on Padilla's statements while in military custody and interrogations of Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the U.S. government said.
The document refers to two accomplices, fugitive Adnan Elshukrijumah, a Saudi who is wanted by the FBI, and his replacement, who was not named but "corroborated" the plot. That was Muhammad, according to the Pentagon's charges, which name Padilla as Muhammad's co-conspirator.
"He clearly was a source, but he was just telling them what they told him to say," Smith said. "I would like some answers from the U.S. as to where they got this evidence, because I am confident we will find all this evidence was exacted at the tip of a razor blade."
In September 2004 Muhammad was sent to Guantanamo. Two months later the military's status review tribunal determined he was properly designated an "enemy combatant" and "an individual who was part of a supporting the Taliban or al Qaeda forces."