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UK Guantánamo pair loses case

26-05-2006

By Elham Asaad Buaras

The Muslim News OnLine:

Two British residents detained at Guantánamo Bay failed in a High Court bid to force the British Government to seek their release on May 4.

The court upheld a decision by the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, not to petition the US Government on behalf of Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes. The judges said the Government was right in its claims that it had no legal duty to take action because the men are foreign nationals.

However, during the hearing it was revealed that Straw had decided to “reconsider separately” the case of the Iraq-born businessman Bisher Al-Rawi, who is also being held at Guantánamo. Al-Rawi, who came to Britain in 1985, has been held by the US for three years but is reported to have cooperated with British security services prior to his arrest in Gambia. The judges were told there were facts in his case, which could not be discussed in open court that meant “a specific, security-related request” would be made to the US government on his behalf.

In a statement to The Muslim News Omar’s brother, Abubaker, said, “I haven’t lost faith in the judicial system. I still believe we will get justice in the end. Families of those detained in that place go through every day knowing that their brothers, husbands or fathers are suffering. We can’t see them or speak to them. We fear the worst. If all are agreed Guantánamo must close then why cannot a British minister request that my brother comes home?”

Al-Rawi and his business partner El-Banna, a Jordanian who was granted refugee status in 2000, were alleged to have been associated with al-Qa’idah through their connection with the scholar Abu Qatada.

Al-Rawi was assured by MI5 operatives they would assist him should he get into trouble. However, the British Government was unwilling to make material available to him when a hearing on his case was held at Guantánamo.

Save Omar Campaign spokeswoman, Jackie Chase, said, “We are disappointed with this ruling because, while Guantánamo is condemned in general terms, the British Government is not compelled to protect British residents held there indefinitely without trial or hope of justice. It has been well documented in the press that Al-Rawi had been co-operating with MI5. Is this the price of release from Guantánamo? This is a terribly long way from justice.”

El-Banna was accused of being in possession of “a home-made electronic
device” at the time of his arrest. His lawyers say it was a battery charger bought from Argos and cleared by the UK authorities before he went to Gambia.

They said El-Banna lost almost 100lb in weight and “has been traumatised by the fact that he is unable to see his children.” Deghayes was detained in Pakistan, and his name was said to be on the FBI’s “most wanted” list.

However, his lawyers say the photograph in his file is of a “totally different individual”. They say he has been left virtually blind in one eye by the use of pepper spray and the gouging of his eye but is still being constantly subjected to high light levels. In a joint written judgment, the judges said, “That would be interference in the relationship between sovereign states which could only be justified if a clear duty in domestic or international law had been identified...there is no such duty in the present case.”

They also said it was impossible for the court to properly evaluate what was happening at Guantánamo, but added that UK foreign policy was clearly to secure closure of the detention facility. Christopher Greenwood QC, appearing for the Foreign Secretary, told the judges the Government was “attaching considerable weight” to a denial by the US that torture or inhuman treatment had taken place at Guantánamo. Nine British nationals who had been detained there have been flown back to the UK and released without charge. Otty said it did not seem too much to ask, considering those details, that all three of the Britons at Guantánamo should receive assistance from the Foreign Office.

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