Coded letters from Briton in Guantanamo reveal 'regime of violence'

Martin Mubanga, from Neasden, is using a mixture of slang and patois in his letters home to describe the conditions in Camp Delta. By Severin Carrell

08 August 2004


Serious new allegations about the ill-treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been revealed in a series of letters from a British detainee, who has accused US guards of threatening him with sexual assault and physical violence, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The letters from Martin Mubanga, one of the last remaining British detainees in Guantanamo Bay, were carefully written to escape the military censors, using a unique mixture of London street slang, Cockney, Jamaican patois and rap lyrics.

Mr Mubanga, 31, a former motorcycle courier and a late convert to Islam, has been imprisoned at the controversial US army base on the south-eastern tip of Cuba for the past two and a half years after being arrested in peculiar circumstances by Zambian intelligence.

In his letters home to his younger brother Anthony - all stamped "cleared by US Forces" - he talks about "radix", slang for the authorities or police, and about the "bull boy" guards "giving it large", a reference, his family says, to threats and the use of violence. Other passages accuse the guards of threatening him with sexual abuse: "expecting man n' man to bend over so as them there can give to man n' man real good."

And in Cockney slang, he recounts being offered inducements by his captors, referring to promises to make his life in the detention camp "pucker", a misspelling of pukka, by getting "Islamic tucker", halal food, and "butters to bang night and day" - a reference to being given prostitutes, says his family.

Until now, little has emerged about Mr Mubanga's journey from childhood in suburban London to Guantanamo Bay, to be branded by US officials as "a player" in the al-Qa'ida network who allegedly trained in their military camps in Afghanistan.

But court documents seen by The Independent on Sunday reveal how the son of a Zambian government official found himself writing heavily coded letters to his younger brother Anthony from a small, 8ft-by-6ft cell in Camp Delta.

Court statements from his two elder sisters, Constance and Kathleen, reveal that Mr Mubanga and his three siblings were brought up in Neasden, north-west London, by their mother after their father died nearly 30 years ago. Their mother died in 1988 when her sons were in their teens. "It was a very big blow to Martin when she died so young," Kathleen Mubanga said. For the next 10 years, Kathleen, 37, raised the boys as best she could.

After leaving school with five GCSEs, her brother got an NVQ in construction, but failed to find a permanent job. He found himself in Feltham Young Offenders' Institute after being arrested for football hooliganism. There, he was attracted to Islam, fell in love with an Asian girl, and began going to a local mosque. According to Constance, his conversion upset his Catholic family, but "he was a bit rootless and Islam gave him a sense of identity". His plans for marriage fell through, and, in October 2000, he left the country for an Islamic college, or madrassah, in Pakistan. "I didn't hear from him again for a long time," said Kathleen. "He left me a message saying he was OK, but he couldn't contact me for a while because he was going travelling."

In late February 2002, Martin, who had dual Zambian-British citizenship, arrived unexpectedly in Zambia - to the surprise of Constance, who was then visiting relatives there. The day the brother and sister were reunited, 28 February, a Sunday Times reporter had arrived on Kathleen's doorstep in London - tipped off by a leak from British intelligence, claiming Martin had been arrested by US forces in Afghanistan. On 3 March, the paper ran the story - even though Martin was in Lusaka. He claimed his passport had been lost in Pakistan, and told his sister it must have been used by someone else - which, argue his lawyers, is why Western intelligence agencies wrongly believed he was in custody in Afghanistan.

They agreed he should leave the capital, Lusaka, for an aunt's house. Within days, however, Zambian intelligence officers arrived - tipped off by a family friend - and arrested her, insisting she took them to find her brother. They were both detained "on false charges of motor vehicle theft". By then British intelligence services had been alerted. Martin and she were split up, and after 21 days of questioning, Constance was put on to a British Airways flight home.

As soon as she arrived, Special Branch officers took her aside, questioned her closely about Martin and their family, and advised her that MI5 officers would be in touch. Two days later, she was under interrogation by two MI5 officers at Paddington Green high-security police station. "They said they wanted a profile of Martin and to establish whether he was actively involved in terrorist activities against any British people in Afghanistan," she said. Even now, the US and UK governments insist there is evidence he had attended al-Qa'ida's Afghan training camps.

According to Katherine's affidavit, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, admitted British intelligence knew Martin had been arrested in Zambia but did not intervene. The family claim this is because the UK connived with the US to take him to Cuba - in breach of British extradition law. Mr Straw insisted that since Martin was travelling on his Zambian passport, the UK had no legal right to intervene. And, he maintained, he had intelligence on Martin that could not be disclosed because it would "jeopardise the safety of the source/informant".

By 20 April, Martin had arrived at Guantanamo Bay. That day, he sent home a scrawled six-word note in shaky capital letters, with a crossed-out misspelling of Guantanamo Bay, through the Red Cross. It read: "I am at Guantanamo Bay (Cuba)."

Since then, the family has received four letters - all written in a mix of street slang, rap phrases and Cockney. At first, their contents unsettled the family but, said his lawyer Louise Christian, it was only when five other British detainees were released from Camp Delta in March that their significance became clear, particularly his references to physical intimidation and sexual bribes.

All five - the three men from Tipton, Ruhal Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, as well as Tarek Dergoul from east London, and Jamal Udeen from Manchester - alleged they had been routinely assaulted, forcibly shaved, sprayed with Mace, verbally and physically abused, and housed in appalling conditions.

Crucially for the family, they also insist that sexual innuendo and harassment were used - including offers of prostitutes. Mr Udeen, who was captured by the US in a Taliban prison, claimed semi-clad women were used to "shame" the Muslim inmates.

In his letter of 24 March last year, Martin writes: "The bully boy loves to be the bully boy, chats enough crap and giving it large. Expecting man n' man to bend over so as them there can give to man n' man real good. Boy must be thinking man n' man is some kind of rent boy."

These allegations are rejected by the US authorities, who insist all the detainees are held under standards set by the Geneva Conventions. They have denied outright using women or offers of sex as inducements, or of physically assaulting any detainee, and have promised to investigate the claims that have been made.


Feroz Abbasi, 23

Former computing student from Croydon, south London. Believed to have been captured in the Afghan city of Kunduz in January 2002, since when he has been in Guantanamo.

Moazzam Begg, 35

Born in Birmingham, he studied tourism and hotel management, and ran a bookshop before moving to Afghanistan in 2001 to do charity work. Seized by Pakistani police and CIA agents in February 2002, he was transferred to Cuba in February 2003.

Richard Belmar, 24

Born in London into a Catholic family, he converted to Islam at the age of 16. Travelled to Pakistan in the summer of 2001 to study the Koran, but was arrested during the war in Afghanistan and was transported to Cuba.

Four men who are permanent British residents but have foreign passports are also being held in Guantanamo

Bisher al-Rawi, originally from Iraq, and Jamil al-Banna, a Jordanian, were captured in Gambia in August 2002 and moved to Cuba in February 2003. Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer, 37, a Saudi, was captured in Afghanistan in January 2002. The circumstances of the detention of Jamal Abdullah, 24, from Uganda, are unknown.

Tom Anderson