Although the weather was awful, spirits were high amongst those who had gathered to deliver the letter: released Guantánamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Bisher al-Rawi, MEPs Baroness Sarah Ludford and Jean Lambert, actress Kika Markham (Corin Redgrave’s wife), Tahir Deghayes, the younger brother of released detainee Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, and an unexpected guest: Joanna Lumley, whose presence obviously brightened the morning for the group of press photographers who had gathered in the rain to record the occasion.
The full text of the letter (as drafted by the human rights group Cageprisoners - http://www.cageprisoners.com/) and its signatories is reproduced below. For further information on the British residents, see Andy’s archive ( http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/?cat=19).
Dear Prime Minister,
We, the undersigned, welcome last month’s release of the British residents, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdennour Sameur and applaud the government’s intervention in securing their release from Guantánamo Bay. At long last their ordeal has come to an end and, hopefully, they will be able to truly begin to rebuild their lives with their families.
It is, however, with great concern that we note the UK government failed in securing the return of two remaining long-term prisoners who hold strong ties to this country, Binyam Mohamed al-Habashi and Ahmed Belbacha. This is particularly disquieting since we are aware that the Foreign Secretary had included Binyam Mohamed in the initial request made this August to his US counterpart.
We believe Binyam Mohamed sought asylum in the UK in 1994 and that he was granted leave to remain here. The circumstances surrounding the seizure, extraordinary rendition and imprisonment of Mr. Mohamed, as described by him in Guantánamo Bay through his legal representatives, are horrific to say the least. Part of his testimony describes how he was interrogated in Morocco for 18 months, evidently at the behest of US intelligence. During this time it states, amongst other things, that he was stripped naked and a scalpel used to repeatedly cut his chest and genitals.
In July 2003 two British citizens, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbassi, were amongst the first men to be designated for trial by military commission in Guantánamo. Many senior British law lords said the proposed procedure was highly objectionable. Lord Steyn described it as “a mockery of justice … derived from the jumps of the kangaroo.” The then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, himself finally intervened stating that the military commissions process was wholly inadequate for the purposes of administering a fair trial and, demanding in the absence of a just system, that the men be repatriated. In January 2005 the last of the UK citizens, including Begg and Abbassi, were returned home.
It is a strange paradox that Binyam Mohamed remains in Guantánamo only because he is now being put through the very process whose objectionable nature had once provoked the decision to pursue freedom for British men held unjustly.
In the case of Ahmed Belbacha, we have learned that he lived and worked in Bournemouth since 1999 and was cleared to work at a Labour party conference there. He even received a letter of thanks from the then Deputy Prime Minster, John Prescott, for his services. Mr. Belbacha was cleared by the US military for release but he cannot safely return to Algeria where he would be at serious risk from both militants and a government known for human rights abuses. Without intervention by the United Kingdom, Mr. Belbacha may face a fate worse than Guantánamo Bay.
We therefore kindly request once again that the British government intervenes on behalf of these men who have been subjected to the violations of incarceration without trial for so long.
Today, the Guantánamo Bay prison centre has reached the six-year mark since inception. Hundreds of men continue to be held there without access to due process and the rule of law. The chorus of voices calling for the closure of this place grows stronger by the day. In June last year, former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stated, “we have shaken the belief the world had in the American justice system … by keeping a place like Guantánamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don't need it and it is causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.”
He also said, “if it were up to me I would close Guantánamo not tomorrow but this afternoon” and “I would get rid of Guantánamo and the military commission system.”
We request too that the British government joins this call and unequivocally asks its closest ally to close down the Guantánamo prison centre.
Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo detainee and spokesman for Cageprisoners
Zachary Katznelson, Reprieve, Counsel for detainees in Guantánamo
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Baroness Sarah Ludford, MEP
Lord Nazir Ahmed
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Bindman & Partners, British Institute of Human Rights, Professor of Law, UCL
Ruhal Ahmed, former Guantánamo detainee
Tarek Dergoul, former Guantánamo detainee
Amani Deghayes, sister of ex-Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes
Yvonne R. Bradley, Esq, Detailed Military Defense Counsel for Binyam Mohamed
Gareth Peirce, Lawyer, Birnberg Peirce
Jean Lambert, MEP
Caroline Lucas, MEP
Corin Redgrave, Actor and Campaigner
Kika Markham, Actress
Dr Adnan Siddiqui, Cageprisoners
Tony Benn, MP
Clare Short, MP
Mark Oaten, MP
Dianne Abbott, MP
David Howarth, MP
Desmond Turner, MP
Norman Baker MP, Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Helen Bamber OBE, Clinical Director, Helen Bamber Foundation, Working for Survivor of Gross Human Rights Violations
Anjum Anwar MBE, Blackburn Cathedral
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Journalist, The Independent
Alastair Lyon, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors
Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al-Aqsa
Anas Altikriti, Spokesman, British Muslim Initiative
Aki Nawaz, Artist and activist, Muslim Defence League
Richard Hermer, Doughty St Chambers
Muddassar Arani, Arani Solicitors
Imran Khan, Imran Khan & Partners Solicitors
Ibrahim Hewitt, Head of Al Aqsa School
Naeem Malik, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
Muhammad Umar, Chairman, Ramadhan Foundation
Sue Conlan, Peace & Progress
Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Dr David Nicholl, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Shahreen Khanom, Arani Solicitors
Mary Pearson, National Secretary, Troops Out Movement
Ali AlHadithi, President, Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS)
Azad Ali, Muslim Safety Forum
Muhammad Habibur Rahman, President, Islamic Forum Europe
Shakeel Begg, Imam of Lewisham Islamic Centre
Solange Mouthaan, Lecturer, Law School, University of Warwick
Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors
Natalia Garcia, Tyndalwoods Solicitors
Yasmin Khan, Justice4Jean Campaign
Dr Azzam Tamimi
Yvonne Ridley, Journalist
John Pilger, Journalist
Andy Worthington, Author, The Guantánamo Files
Fareena Alam, Journalist, Q News
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Frances Whittle, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Adrienne Burrows, Peace and Justice
Linda Rogers, Peace and Progress
Pat Fawcett, Arts Officer, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council
Tony Whelan, Universities and Colleges Union, London School of Economics
Dr Taj Hargey, Chair, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford
Nafeez Ahmed, Associate Tutor International Relations, University of Sussex, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development
Asad Rehman, Human rights activist, Chair of Newnham Monitoring Project
Dr Kamal Al Helbawy, Centre for the Study of Terrorism
James Yee, former US Army Chaplain, Guantánamo
Sajida Malik, Solicitor, Birnberg Peirce
For a detailed appraisal of the situation at Guantanamo on its sixth anniversary, and the problems surrounding its closure, see my article, “Six Years Of Guantanamo: Enough Is Enough” ( http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/?p=199).