Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Guantanamo - UK’s Shame

No more! Jamil and the other UK detainees must come home now!

Just three weeks since I last posted (here and here) about the detention of UK residents in Guantanamo I return to the subject. I make no apology for doing so

Today I write about Jamil el-Banna - a UK resident - who was arrested in Gambia along with Bisher al-Rawi, both men being subjected to extraordinary rendition. Today’s Times carries an article (10 April 2007; http://tinyurl.com/ywphy8) which suggests that an MI5 blunder led to their detention. The article states:

“Crucial to the inquiry (Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee) are documents that show that MI5 had approached both men to become informants because of their acquaintance with a radical Islamist cleric.

The papers, released under American freedom of information legislation, appear to show that Mr el-Banna refused offers of money and a new identity while Mr al-Rawi tried to pull out of an unpaid arrangement with MI5 agents. Later British agents sent telegrams to the CIA, alerting it to the men’s arrival in The Gambia from London on a business trip.

The telegrams described the men as Islamists and extremists who were close to Abu Qatada, a key figure in the al-Qaeda movement in Europe, now in prison in Britain.”

The two men were arrested in Gambia in November 2002, subjected to extraordinary rendition arriving in Guantanamo (via Bagram airbase) in March 2003. One detaineee - Bisher al-Rawi – was released recently and returned to the UK but the other Jamil el-Banna remains under detention with no prospect of a return to the UK.

Jamil el-Banna described his arrest to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. The Times displayed an extract from that transcript:

Jamil el-Banna: They took me, covered me, put me in a vehicle and sent me somewhere — I don’t know where. It was at night. Then from there to the airport right away.

Tribunal: An airport in Gambia?

El-Banna: We were in a room with about eight men. All with covered-up faces.

Tribunal: Were you by yourself?

El-Banna: Yes. They cut off my clothes. They were pulling on my hands and my legs. They put me in an airplane and they made me wear the handcuffs that go around your body so I would not do anything on the airplane . . .

Tribunal: Is this the time you said you were kidnapped?

El-Banna: This is all kidnapping. Yes. They took me underground in the dark. I did not see light for two weeks.

Tribunal: Is that after you travelled to Afghanistan or Pakistan?

El-Banna: After I got off the airplane.

Tribunal: In where?

El-Banna: Bagram, Afghanistan . . . I did not know what I did wrong or what I did.

This extract describes only the first few weeks of his 4½ year detention. Contrast this with the two weeks the UK’s Iran “15” endured and this was only the beginning! The “15” had it easy!

Jamil el-Banna came to the UK in 1994 with his wife, Sabah, and, once here, they had 5 children - all UK citizens. More information about Jamil and Sabah is available at The Guardian (http://tinyurl.com/ya85m6).

There is no legal requirement on the UK to offer help to UK residents and it is on this basis that Jamil has been left at Guantanamo. His former co-detainee Bisher al-Rawi was released and allowed back into the UK but the government will not state why el-Banna cannot also come home. A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth office said:

They are all foreign nationals and therefore we have no locus to provide diplomatic or consular assistance to them.

“The facts of Mr al-Rawi’s case are different and the Foreign Secretary took a decision to ask the Americans to release him back to the UK.

How expert these “people” are at excusing the government’s actions, whatever they are! But don’t they know we see right through these shameful words excusing shameful inaction?

Imagine the damage done by a kidnapping and more than 4 years of captivity in Guantanamo.

Imagine the UK reaction if Iran had held the “15” for four years.

Imagine the UK reaction if they had been subjected to the same treatment as the Guantanamo detainees.

Just two weeks reduced one of the “15” to tears.

Just two weeks had some right wing commentators calling for a military strike against Iran.

There is no legal requirement to repatriate Jamil but neither is there any legal impediment. There is, however, an overwhelming moral imperative on the government to bring Jamil home. And yet they let Jamil el-Banna (and others) rot in Guantanamo and they hide behind legalistic excuses.

Our government has condemned Jamil to remain in that hellish place.

Is there no decency, no compassion at the heart of our government?

Is there no one in government with the morality to shout “No more! Jamil and the other UK detainees must come home now!”

This government shames the entire country and sullies its already heavily tarnished name.

When Blair departs, his successor must immediately offer Jamil his home among us, back with his family where he belongs.

Until then we must shout,

“No more! Jamil and the other UK detainees must come home now!”

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