17 MAY


[ 17 May 1900 ]

On this day in 1900, a British army relieved the besieged city of Mafeking during the Second Boer War. It led to street celebrations across Britain and the commander of the besieged troops, Robert Baden-Powell, became a national hero, even though the city had never been in serious danger.  Powell had ruthlessly maintained food stocks by allowing  some seven hundred Africans to die of starvation and African volunteers who helped defend the city were never paid.[1]


[ 17 May 2002 ]

On this day in 2002, an MI5 officer interviewed a British resident being held incommunicado and without any access to any legal representation in Pakistan.[2] Binyam Mohamed had been arrested a month earlier on 10 April at Karachi airport where he went to board a flight to Britain for a visa violation.  Mohamed recalled that

“They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you are going you need a lot of sugar.’ I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.”[3]

The MI5 officer, according to his own admission, explained to Mohamed that “if he wanted my help (in persuading the United States which was going to decide his fate to be more lenient), he would need to be completely forthcoming,” although the officer insisted that this amounted to a statement of the obvious, rather than a threat.

Two months later, on 22 July Mohamed was flown by the CIA from Pakistan to Morocco on a rendition flight so his interrogation could be outsourced to the Moroccan government. Once in Moroccan detention he was subjected to appalling forms of torture including repeated cuts, using a scalpel and razor blade, to his chest and penis.

Before and after these torture sessions, he was shown “photographs and files that they said came from Britain, from MI5. They called it the British file. It was then that I realised that the British were sending questions to the Moroccans.”(4)  The country to which he had originally applied for asylum was now collaborating in his interrogation and torture.

After 18 months of detention in Morocco Mohamed was flown to the United States’ Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, the site of a notorious dark prison, and then to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before being finally released in 2009 when he was able to return to Britain and took action in the High Court against MI5 collusion in his torture.  On 10 February 2010 the UK Court of Appeal ruled that he had suffered “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” in which the British intelligence services had been complicit. 


  1. Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London p220 and “Remembering the Boer War’s Black Victims,”  BBC News 12 October 1999 accessed online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/469216.stm
  2. “MI5 officer escapes charges in Binyan Mohamed torture case,” The Guardian, 17 November 2010 accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/17/mi5-officer-binyam-mohamed-case
  3. Binyan Mohamed quoted in Andrew Tyrie MP, Roger Gough and Stuart McCracken (2011), “Account Rendered: Extraordinary Rendition and Britain’s role,” Biteback Publishing, London  p87
  4. Ibid.


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