Perhaps not an obvious location for a demonstration against Guantánamo Bay, the Spanish government is currently seeking the extradition of Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes who were returned to their families in Britain from Guantánamo Bay in December 2007, alleging that they were members of an Al-Qaeda cell in the country in the 1990s (both were living in the UK at the time). This demonstration was held prior to the former detainees’ hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday 14 February.
The demonstrators were joined by prominent lawyer Mudassar Arani, whose client Farid Hilali was extradited to Spain last week. Farid Hilali, 36, a Moroccan national, is the first person to have been served a European extradition warrant and was sought in connection to the 9/11 attacks, although the charges against his alleged co-conspirator in Spain were dropped long ago. The evidence against him remains flimsy (hinging on what may or may not have been said in mobile phone conversations) and alleged membership of a terrorist organisation. He faces the possibility of being deported to Morocco where he is almost certain to face imprisonment and torture.
Spain, although a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and a member of the Council of Europe, has a poor record of protecting the rights of prisoners and minorities. The torture and abuse of Basques and North Africans in Spanish jails and abuse by the police is not uncommon. A recent Amnesty International report sheds light on this: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/EUR41/006/2007
The visit to the Spanish Embassy was followed up on Thursday 14 February by a “hearts and flowers” demonstration outside Horseferry Road (Westminster) Magistrates’ Court, where the London Guantánamo Campaign was joined by the Save Omar Campaign and Eastbourne for Peace and Liberty to protest against the ongoing attempt by Spain to extradite Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes to Spain. This is their third hearing since their return to the UK concerning this request. Over twenty people turned up to show their support for these victims of torture and abuse and their families. During the short hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC representing Omar and Jamil submitted medical reports showing that both men were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, following their ordeal in Guantánamo and Afghanistan. The court also reported that since the last hearing on 9 January, the Spanish government has failed to respond to the court’s request for information. The judge gave Spain’s lawyers until 13 April to respond to the medical reports. Assuming that it responds, there will be a formal extradition hearing on 15 May. Counsel for the two men also asked for the removal of their electronic tags, part of their bail conditions to make sure they comply with a curfew imposed on them, which the court agreed to. Instead, they may be regularly visited by the police to make sure they are at home during the curfew hours of 8pm-7am.
Also on 14 February, Clive-Stafford-Smith, legal director of Reprieve, the legal charity representing several dozen Guantánamo detainees, who has been accused by the US military of secretly smuggling contraband items – underwear – to detainees, presented a very special Valentine’s Day gift to Gordon Brown in Downing Street in the morning; Reprieve has teamed up with Vivienne Westwood’s Agent Provocateur underwear brand to create “fair trial my arse” knickers. Gordon Brown was presented with the very first pair by Mr Stafford-Smith, along with a letter calling for Guantánamo Bay to be closed down; the briefs were then modelled at Vivienne Westwood’s show that night at London Fashion Week. Available from 16 February in Guantánamo orange, it is “hoped that the limited-edition handcuff-accessorized Agent Provocateur bikini-briefs will highlight the inhumane and illegal treatment of prisoners held without trial in Guantánamo Bay and in countless other secret prisons round the world”.
One of the detainees who is alleged to have received “contraband underwear” from Stafford-Smith is Shaker Aamer, a 38-year Saudi national whose British family live in South London. Although his return to the UK was requested by the British government in August 2007, his return has since been requested by his native country Saudi Arabia which he is said to be happy to return to. However, while three British residents returned to the UK and 10 Saudis were returned to Saudi Arabia in December 2007, Mr Aamer remains in Guantánamo and no date has been given for his possible release. Mr Aamer has been held in solitary confinement for over 18 months and has a five year son he has never met. The London Guantánamo Campaign is monitoring actions taken by both the Saudi and British government to have him released.
Reprieve press release “Reprieve and Agent Provocateur Join Forces in the Case of the Contraband underpants” http://reprieve.org.uk/documents/PRESSRELEASE14208.pdf
Vivienne Westwood talks about Guantánamo (and the US elections) at London Fashion Week http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLM5g29lI24
A small group assembled outside the US Embassy in Mayfair on Friday evening at 6-7pm for the London Guantánamo Campaign’s weekly “Shut Down Guantánamo!” vigil. Brave the February cold and join us next week – same time, same place! The footpath between Grosvenor Square and the US Embassy is now completely blocked by “building works” by the Embassy, so please join us at the corner of North Audley Street and Upper Brook Street instead (North Audley Street starts at the corner of Laura Ashley on Oxford Street – opposite Selfridges—nearest tube: Bond Street/Marble Arch).
Also on Friday night, former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg addressed a packed out audience at the Al-Badr Centre in Walthamstow, East London. Over 200 people attended as Mr Begg spoke about his experiences in Kandahar and Guantánamo Bay. Speaking to a mainly Muslim audience, he focused on how the American military in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay tried to prevent detainees from performing their prayers and other religious duties, including bizarre incidents such as playing the American national anthem while a detainee tried to call the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer). An appeal was made to the audience at the end to do more to help get the 277 remaining detainees released and have Guantánamo closed down.
Pictures from the demonstrations on Tuesday and Thursday