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A SENSE OF RELEASE

10-12-2007

It emerged over the weekend that four UK residents are finally to be released from Guantanamo Bay - but a fifth will remain in detention and face trial.  Anti-Guantanamo campaigner Dr David Nicholl says the affair leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

A late night phone call from Radio WM on Friday asking for comments on the British residents being released from Guantanamo prompted some thought.

I am genuinely very pleased for the family of Omar Deghayes who I have got to know very well over almost 3 years of campaigning .

Omar has been held for over 5 years in Guantanamo, blinded in one eye following torture, and has not been charged with any crime.

Likewise, Jamil El-Banna who had been kidnapped with his friend, Bisher Al-Rawi who had been assisting M15 in the investigation of radical Islamists, hardly the way to win hearts and minds, I feel.

However, what prompted my train of thought was this. Why were they ALL not coming back to the UK? After all, the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband had announced in August, just that- that the UK government would be seeking their return to the UK. Secondly, why was this story being released late on a Friday night, were the US authorities trying to bury the story?

There was a simple answer to these questions, speak to a former detainee and then their lawyer.

First of all, I spoke to Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee who had shared a house in Afghanistan briefly with Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national who was kidnapped along with Moazzam in Pakistan and sold onto the Americans for $5000/each.

Shaker had been applying for British citizenship before his capture and his wife and 4 children are all British. Why was Shaker Aamer being returned to Saudi Arabia rather than the UK?

Moazzam told me that “Over the last 2 years, in his letters to us, Shaker made it clear, he was fed up with things, he’d felt abandoned by the UK and seen people like me being released, so he made a conscious decision to return to Saudia Arabia where he has family. The Saudi authorities have no issue with Shaker, I’m confident that he will receive good treatment there”. His treatment in Guantanamo has been particularly harsh as he is a “larger than life character” according to Moazzam who acted as an intermediary between the prisoners and the guards.

He has paid a heavy price for acting in this role, and has been held in solitary confinement since August 2005 and force-fed on hunger strike since January 2007. This, according to Clive Stafford-Smith, Shaker’s lawyer, has had a devastating effect on his mental health, Clive has not spoken to Shaker directly in over 18 months, and has been only be able to pass messages via other prisoners, who describe Shaker’s mental health as “fragile and delusional”. Shaker Aamer has not been charged with any crime throughout this period.

Secondly, why was Binyam Mohammed being kept in Guantanamo when the others will be returned either to the UK or released?  

His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith was in no doubt of the reason and was more candid than in this week’s Observer. “Binyam was a victim of extraordinary rendition to a secret prison in Morocco where he was tortured over an 18 month period, including having a razor blade taken to his penis and chest wall. I am aware of a photograph showing a CIA agent in the same room as him in one of these interrogations- given the story this week, of the CIA wiping interrogation tapes, the last thing the US authorities want is someone like this returning to the UK, talking about his first-hand experiences of torture”. Binyam Mohammed faces a “military tribunal hearing” for allegations based on a ‘dirty bomb’ plot, yet the evidence was gathered through torture and his alleged co-conspirator, by virtue of being a US citizen, had a proper trial, and the main charges were dropped. So therein lies the dilemma, should we accept evidence extracted through torture? After all, Shafiq Rasul, one of the Tipton Three, confessed under torture to meeting Osama Bin Laden.

Unfortunately for his interrogators, Shafiq was actually working in Curry’s in Oldbury at the time. The electronics superstore isn’t exactly well known as an Al Qaeda hide-out.

Finally, Clive Stafford-Smith expressed his extreme irritation at the US authorities for slandering his clients. “On September 13th, the US authorities called the BBC in to deliberately smear my clients, who have not been charged with any crime in all the time they have been held in Guantanamo, prior to their release.”

This is interesting as in fact the BBC’s Newsnight broke the story in February 2005 that showed how Omar Deghayes was being held as a victim of mistaken identity and was accused of being a Chechen rebel. The rebel he was alleged to be, Abu Walid, had been killed the previous year and Omar had never been to Chechnya.

As Clive Stafford-Smith stated in the Observer 'If the US has any evidence to present, let it be done in a fair trial. Bring it on. We would welcome that and we would prove it false. Anyone who asserts that these men are dangerous should remember that the British way is to present evidence at a fair trial.'

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