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THE GUANTANAMO DOCTOR

24-06-2008

There has been much criticism of the US military doctors in the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo and other secret prisons. What has not been told – until now – is that amongst the prisoners is a doctor who has now been detained without charge for 6 and half years. David Nicholl has more.

Last month, I was contacted by the director of Reprieve, Clive Stafford-Smith, asking if I would be able to assist with one of his clients in Guantanamo. Clive could not be more specific until the documents were declassified - such are the restrictions in Guantanamo, that failure to comply could result in a 40 year jail sentence for Clive.

He had recently taken on the case of Dr Ayman Saeed Batarfi, a young orthopaedic surgeon from Yemen who had received a scholarship to train at medical school in Pakistan.

After graduating in 1995, he was struck by the many Afghani children he treated during his postgraduate training and decided to do what he could to help this impoverished nation by moving to Kabul to assist with the refurbishment of a hospital in early 2001 by joining an non-governmental organisation known as Al Wafa having a number of Western and local NGOs.

After 9/11, he rapidly realized the situation in Afghanistan was going to rapidly deteriorate, not least as by the end of September 2001, Al Wafa had been listed by the US authorities as a supporter of terrorist organisations.

Influenced by these allegations, Dr Batarfi resigned from Al Wafa and sought to leave Afghanistan. He did - but not before being “sold” onto the US authorities by the Northern Alliance for a bounty.

Since then he has remained in US custody for over 6 and half years and has not been charged with any crime.

However, if he is guilty of anything, he may have committed the crime of association - in his military tribunal, he states that he met Bin Laden for 10 minutes in late 2001.

Of course meeting a murderer is not in itself a crime, Donald Rumsfeld met with Sadaam Hussein after all. Nonetheless a 10 minute meeting with America’s #1 enemy is clearly worthy of further questioning.

Whether it justifies being banged up in Guantanamo for longer than the entire Second World War has got to questionable at the very least.

The recent debate about detention without charge for 6 weeks - when 50% of those held are found to innocent - is in a different league to being held for over 6 years. Not surprisingly Dr Batarfi’s mental health is being affected as he has had no contact with family or colleagues during this time with a very uncertain future.

What I do find staggering about this case is just how little is in the media about Dr Batarfi’s case. There was rightly much said of the dangers that journalists such as the BBC’s Alan Johnston or Al Jazeera’s Sami Al Haj took by reporting in war zones. Perhaps some of those journalists need to highlight the dangers faced by doctors working in war zones.

I have no idea if Dr Batarfi is innocent or guilty, but I do know that he should have the right to hear charges in fair trial or else be released without trial.

Indeed other members of Al Wafa have been repatriated from Guantanamo to their home countries. The military tribunals at Guantanamo have been compared to a kangaroo court, with even US military lawyers refusing to take part.

Indeed, it is worth recalling how one of the Tipton Three admitted to meeting Bin Laden after being ‘interrogated’ in Guantanamo, when in fact they had actually been working in Curry’s in Oldbury at the time.

As such, I and other colleagues are launching a petition to highlight Dr Batarfi’s case. and to ask that either faces a proper court process or be released.

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