CUBA - A British man held at Guantánamo Bay has alleged that he saw US soldiers kill two men in Afghanistan.
Moazzam Begg, 36, who has been detained for 2 years without charge or trial, complains in the first letter from a serving inmate to describe severe mistreatment of having suffered "vindictive torture" and death threats, and implies that he has made a false confession.
His lawyers said yesterday that they believed he had been held in solitary confinement at the US military base in Cuba because he had seen the killing. He has had no contact with fellow prisoners since his arrival almost 600 days ago.
Although former detainees have alleged that they suffered extensive abuse and torture at Bagram in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, mail from the camp is heavily censored.
It is unclear why the Pentagon has cleared a document which makes such strong allegations of abuse.
Mr Begg's letter, which is labelled as a supplement to an earlier statement, was written in July and forwarded to his legal team earlier this week. He wrote it after learning that he would be given access to a lawyer.
The American lawyer who subsequently visited him could be jailed if she disclosed their discussions.
In his letter Mr Begg, who comes from Birmingham, said that he was a law-abiding Briton who had never met Osama bin Laden or joined al-Qaida or other paramilitary organisations.
He was arrested by Pakistani agents at his home in Islamabad and handed over to the Americans, who held him at Bagram in Afghanistan for a year and transferred him to Guantánamo Bay in February last year.
Mr Begg wrote: "During several interviews, particularly - though unexclusively - in Afghanistan, I was subjected to pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture and death threats - amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques."
He described signing a statement in early February 2003 "under threats of long-term imprisonment, summary trials and execution", and added: "Interviews were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods ...
"This culminated ... with the deaths of two fellow detainees at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness."
Two deaths at Bagram airbase have been classified as homicides and the autopsies indicated "blunt-force injuries", but it is thought that Mr Begg is referring to separate incidents.
The Pentagon said torture was prohibited at Guantá namo Bay and that all "credible allegations" of abuse were investigated, but would not elaborate on whether it considered Mr Begg's claims to be "credible".
It added: "The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terror."
Mr Begg said he had not been allowed to see a chaplain or a lawyer, and that even letters from his eight-year-old child were censored.
Clive Stafford Smith, one of Mr Begg's lawyers in the US, said: "It turns out he is a witness to the two homicides at Bagram. There is no other reason to keep him separate from the others."
He called on the American government to declassify evidence of the deaths, and said he would file a legal demand on Monday to end the "inhumane treatment" immediately.
He called on the British government to demand Mr Begg's immediate repatriation.
Gareth Peirce, Mr Begg's solicitor, said: "We are requesting that the UK government immediately takes this evidence of torture to the United Nations demanding that the USA is held responsible."
Lawyers have begun a battery of legal actions on behalf of Guantánamo detainees and the authorities may have felt under pressure to disclose documents.
"The letter has either been let through by mistake or because someone in the US has a conscience," Mr Stafford-Smith said.
Ms Peirce said she believed it could be "the 100th such letter he has written" and described it as a cry for help. She said it was intolerable that evidence from Guantánamo could be used to justify the continued detention of foreign nationals in the UK under anti-terror laws.
Mr Begg's father Azmat said it was heartbreaking to read the letter, but added: "I am surprised and proud that he has been held for three years and yet is still strong."
He said he believed that after his son saw the deaths in Afghanistan, US soldiers put a gun to his head and said: "Now it's you."
William Hopkins, a consultant psychiatrist for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said anyone held in the conditions described could suffer a wide range of problems, including depression, paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
The Foreign Office said that the government was continuing to press for the remaining Britons to be repatriated and had raised the concerns expressed by the detainees with the US authorities.
It said: "During welfare visits, Mr Begg has never alleged to us that he has been systematically abused at Guantánamo Bay in the way that is being suggested.
"Mr Begg has said that he was mistreated at Bagram and we have raised this with the American authorities who are investigating. We take all allegations of abuse of British nationals abroad seriously."
In recent months the British government appears to have been stepping up pressure on the US to release its citizens.
Three other Britons - Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar - and several British residents are among more than 600 men still held at Guantánamo. Five other Britons gave harrowing accounts of life in US custody after being released without charge earlier this year.
In a report first published by the Guardian, three of them detailed repeated beating, humiliation and death threats.
Moazzam Begg's letter is dated July 12 2004, and addressed to the military command at Guantánamo Bay. He requests that it be copied to his lawyers and US and British authorities.
"After over two and a half years in the custody of the US military without charge and, by extension, without jurisdiction, I have yet to be afforded basic rights normally granted under the constitution of the US and international law. I therefore demand ... that I be released immediately and returned to my family.
I expect logical and reasonable answers for the following violations and abuses: The exact purpose of my abduction, kidnapping and false imprisonment on 31st January 2002 ... Why I was physically abused and stripped by force, then paraded in front of several cameras ... The exact purpose for my incarceration in solitary confinement since 8th Feb, 2003.
Any documents presented to me by US law enforcement agents were signed and initialled under duress ... During several interviews, particularly in Afghanistan, I was subjected to ... vindictive torture and death threats.
The said interviews were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods. In this atmosphere ... was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts. This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness.
I have maintained a compliant and amicable manner with my captors.
I am a law-abiding citizen of the UK and attest vehemently to my innocence before God and the law of any crime - though none has ever been alleged. I have neither ever met Osama bin Laden, nor been a member of al-Qaida - or any synonymous paramilitary organisation, party or group.
Neither have I engaged in hostile acts against the USA, nor assisted such groups in the same. I reiterate my intention to seek justice at every possible level available."
© 2004 The Guardian Ltd.