This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Innocent in Guantanamo
AL QAEDA GENERAL...OR JUST A CHEF WHO COOKED THE BEST FISH IN LONDON?
BY JASON LEWIS
26 February 2006
The Mail on Sunday
AN alleged Al Qaeda ' general' held at the Guantanamo Bay terror suspect camp was working as a chef in London when America says he was training to be an assassin in Afghanistan, it is claimed.
Cooked up charges? Chef or "The General", Ahmed Errachidi
Evidence obtained by The Mail on Sunday casts serious doubt on US allegations that Ahmed Errachidi was fighting alongside Osama Bin Laden in the months before the September 11 attacks.
The revelation comes as international pressure mounts on President Bush to close the camp in Cuba after a highly critical UN report about its treatment of prisoners.
Errachidi, a 38-year-old Moroccan who has worked in London restaurants for 18 years and whose fish dishes have been described by one food critic as 'the best I have ever tasted', has been held in Guantanamo for four years - much of that time in solitary confinement - after being arrested in Pakistan.
He has told his lawyers that he was accused of being an Al Qaeda fighter after an unnamed intelligence source said he had attended terrorist courses at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where four of the 9/11 hijackers are alleged to have been trained.
He is accused of receiving specialist training at the camp in July 2001 in weapons handling, war tactics and bombmaking. However, documents obtained independently by this newspaper show that at the time Errachidi was working as a chef at the five-star Westbury Hotel in Mayfair.
Shown a photograph of the imprisoned man by the The Mail on Sunday, fellow chef Fabrice Guillon said: 'I remember him. We definitely worked together two or three times while I was at the Westbury Hotel in July 2001. I feel it is important that I speak out. If he is innocent, then he shouldn't be being held where he is.'
Last night Errachidi's lawyer, human rights specialist Clive Stafford Smith, claimed he had other evidence including bank records to suggest his client was in Britain at the time.
Mr Stafford Smith is now demanding Errachidi's immediate release. He said: 'Fortunately we can prove that whoever said he was at the Al Farouq training camp is a liar.'
Mr Stafford Smith's new evidence raises doubts over other US allegations against Errachidi.
He has been accused of regularly attending the jailed cleric Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park Mosque in London alongside other alleged terrorists including shoe bomber Richard Reid.
It is also claimed he was a member of an Al Qaeda-linked Moroccan terror group that allegedly carried out reconnaissance missions in New York before 9/11.
On September 18, 2001, a week after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Errachidi left London to visit his wife and children in Morocco.
He says he intended to fly on to Pakistan to try to set up a business venture to raise money for a heart operation for his one-year-old son Imran.
Errachidi insists that he abandoned the idea when he heard on the news that America was bombing Afghanistan and went there instead, intending to help women and children caught up in the fighting.
But he claims after less than a month in the country it had become too dangerous and he decided to leave. Errachidi says he then headed for Pakistan, where he was detained by the police. After several weeks in jail he claims he was taken to Islamabad and turned over to the Americans.
They took him to the American prison camp at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where, according to his lawyer, a sign on the door of the interrogation room said 'Janaham' - meaning 'Hell' in Arabic.
Mr Stafford Smith noted: 'Mr Errachidi spent the next 26 days being tortured and interrogated in Hell.'
After his transfer to Guantanamo Bay it is claimed the American interrogators took a special interest in Errachidi.
According to a lawyer's submission to American authorities: 'Mr Errachidi was dubbed "The General" by US forces. The idea he played any role in terrorism, let alone with the rank of "The General", is absurd. He received the "rank" because he would stand up for other prisoners who were being abused.'
During his four years at Guantanamo Errachidi has spent almost half of it in solitary confinement, longer than any other prisoner there.
Last night Whitehall security sources urged 'caution' in connection with the case.
GUARDS FORCED ME INTO THE TORTURE CHAIR AND SHACKLED ME. AN OFFICER SAID I HAD INCITED A HUNGER STRIKE.'YOU ARE BEING PUNISHED FOR THIS'
BY JASON LEWIS WHITEHALL CORRESPONDENT
9 April 2006
AN alleged Al Qaeda terrorist held at Guantanamo Bay - who says he was working as a London chef when the CIA claim he was training to be an assassin - has gone on hunger strike.
Ahmed Errachidi is starving himself in protest at his treatment at the US detention camp and the refusal of the British Government to intervene on his behalf.
Errachidi, a 38-year-old Moroccan who has worked in London for 18 years, has been accused of being an Al Qaeda fighter who had attended terrorist courses at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, employment records show that at the time, Errachidi was working as a chefin the Westbury Hotel in London's Mayfair.
A UK resident rather than a passport holder, Errachidi is one of several Guantanamo prisoners whom the Foreign Office refuses to help.
Last week his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, handed The Mail on Sunday a statement from Mr Errachidi - which has been declassified by US authorities and which we reproduce in part below - explaining why he has gone on hunger strike.
'I AM a British resident. I have lived in London for about 18 years. I have gone on hunger strike [as of March 9, 2006]. Four years ago almost to the day, the British came to see me in Bagram and promised they would investigate my situation and I would be free in weeks. I co-operated with them fully.
Now, four years later, I am being tortured in Guantanamo. The Americans say I was in Afghanistan in July 2001 - when I was cooking eggs at the Westbury Hotel!
Enough is enough. I have the right to protest, peacefully. I am not harming them [the Americans]. I must be allowed to demonstrate peacefully. I do not want to die; I want to live, and I am not living here.
I hope to break the record for not eating the longest. I will not die, I will only strike until I can no longer stand under my own strength. But I will do it for 40, 50, 60, perhaps 70 days.
I am only five days with no food today. I forbid the US military from forced 'torture feeding' on me. I urge them to leave me alone until I can no longer stand. It is a matter of dignity. I know what their plan for me will be. They will try to torture-feed me. What they do is as follows: It began yesterday [March 8, 2006], when they started to punish me for striking. They forced me into the torture chair. The chair is black and looks a bit like an electric chair. There are straps all over and I was shackled.
The officer came in and read me the 'rules' saying I was guilty of inciting a hunger strike. 'You are being punished for this.' Then two soldiers held my neck while they cut my beard and shaved my head.
I am not told I will be in the Oscar Block for punishment. I am allowed a blanket from 10pm to 4.30am only. Otherwise I have only the clothes (orange, of course) I stand up in and an Isomat. It is freezing cold but when I asked a guard to turn the temperature up, he said: 'Don't come to Oscar'.
I have no soap and now only 30 sheets of TP [toilet paper] a day. They use degradation to try to break me. Yesterday I ran out of TP and asked for more. The soldier said: 'Don't come to Oscar.'
I have a yeast infection and yesterday the medical corpsman refused to give me my medication cream because I no longer had a piece of TP for him to put it on.
They still use the noise machines, too.
I know what is coming next. When the military broke some of the strikers, I was in Romeo and they brought four of them out, and I saw the horror in their eyes. They each had bruises on their noses.
They described what had happened. The tube the military used was hard and not as flexible as before. These were used for a kind of internal torture - they bruise and hurt your sensitive inner organs. Before, they left the tube in. Now, they take it in and out every meal.
They had been put in a chair, strapped much as I was yesterday, also with a head strap. Rather than two cans of Ensure [a food supplement], now it is five cans, plus three bottles of water in the bag. And they force it in over as little as 20 minutes.
All of this is done in Oscar, where I am now, in extreme cold. Sometimes there is a coil in your stomach, as they put too much of the tube in. Then a final bottle of water is used to flush the tube out. Then they give a pink medicine in the bag - some kind of laxative as dessert - and leave you in the chair for a minimum of two more hours, occasionally up to five. If the prisoner throws up, he gets the same treatment again but if you have been on strike for weeks, your stomach has shrunk.
As the prisoner sits, strapped in the torture chair, the guard takes the bag and tugs it out, sometimes humming to himself. The prisoner invariably screams, and there is blood on the tube. In response, the guard growls, 'Eat! Eat!' The prisoners invariably soil their pants. There is no change of pants - we must wash them ourselves. They use nappies, but to protect the chair only. When the prisoner vomits, the next time they use a gag on his mouth.
I spoke to the colonel about all this, and I said: 'Obviously, to do this you must have authority from higher up.' He replied: 'Yes, high, high up.'
With prisoners, the nose torture begins after 18 to 40 days. I expect they will torture-feed me after about 30 days - maybe April 3, 2006. They call this 'Chair Time'. That is when my real Chair Time will begin.
Inhuman, cruel, torture - all these words apply. Nobody, no matter how savage, has come up with torture-feeding before. I am a chef, and my profession has been to give pleasure through food. There is a sick irony that food is being used as torture against me now.
Will the US military, and the world, allow me to protest peacefully, or will I be subjected to torturefeeding? All I ask is for justice - this is a hunger strike to protect life, a struggle for the Truth.
AMERICANS CLEAR LONDON CHEF HELD AT GUANTANAMO
BY JASON LEWIS
8 April 2007
AN ALLEGED terrorist held at Guantanamo Bay has been cleared after evidence showed he was a chef at a London hotel when the CIA claimed he was training to be an Al Qaeda assassin.
US intelligence officials dubbed Ahmed Errachidi 'The General' and said he fought alongside Osama Bin Laden in the months before the September 11 attacks.
But an American military judge cleared Mr Errachidi after he examined the evidence, which was unearthed by The Mail on Sunday.
Despite the finding, his application to return home to Britain - where he had worked for nearly 20 years - has been refused and he remains a prisoner at the US military base. The Foreign Office will not help him because he is a British resident, not a citizen, and does not have a UK passport.
Mr Errachidi, a 39-year-old Moroccan, had worked in London restaurants for 18 years.
Employment records, obtained by this newspaper, showed that in July 2001 - when he was alleged to have been at the al-Farooq terrorist training camp in Afghanistan - he was working at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair
Mr Errachidi has been held in Guantanamo Bay for five years, much of that time in solitary confinement.
Last night his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of human-rights group Reprieve, called on the British Government to allow his client home. He said: 'Despite the finding, Ahmed is still locked up in an isolation cell.'