27 Old Gloucester Street
January 11th 2008
The Right Honourable Gordon Brown PM
10 Downing Street
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 British residents who hold strong ties to this country, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi and Ahmed Belbacha. This is particularly disquieting since we are aware that the Foreign Secretary had included Binyam Mohammed in the initial request made this August to his US counterpart. We believe Binyam Mohammed 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 Binyam Mohammed, as described by him through his legal representatives in Guantánamo Bay, 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 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 military commissions process was wholly inadequate for the purposes of administering a fair trial and, 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 Mohammed remains in Guantánamo only because he is now being put through the very process whose objectionable nature had once provoked decision to free British men held unjustly.
In the case of Ahmed Belbacha we believe he too was given leave to remain in the UK, pending a decision for his asylum application. We have learned that he had lived and worked in Bournemouth since 1999 and was cleared to work at a Labour party conference there and, that he even received a letter of thanks from the then Deputy Prime Minster, John Prescott, for his services. Belbacha was cleared by the US military for release but, he refuses to return to Algeria where he would be at serious risk from both militants and a government known for human rights abuses. 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.
On January 11th 2008, the Guantánamo Bay prison centre will have 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. Despite this, the chorus of voices calling for the closure of this place grows stronger by the day. In June this year, former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stated,
‘…we have shaken the belief the world…by keeping a place like Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo not tomorrow but this afternoon ...’
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 Guantanamo detainee and spokesman for Cageprisoners
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC,
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Bindman & Partners, British Institute of Human Rights, Professor of Law, UCL
Ruhal Ahmed, former Guantanamo detainee
Tarek Dergoul, former Guantanamo detainee
Amani Deghayes, sister of ex-Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes
Yvonne R. Bradley, Esq, Detailed Military Defense Counsel for Binyam Mohamed
Dr Adnan Siddiqui, Cageprisoners
Tony Benn, MP
Clare Short, MP
Anjum Anwar MBE, Blackburn Cathedral
Yasmin Ali Bhai 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 Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo 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