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Saturday, December 24, 2005 

Three stories all interconnected.

Lawyers acting for seven British residents detained in Guantánamo Bay have launched a court challenge to help secure their release.

They say Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Charles Clarke, the home secretary, are under a legal obligation to demand that the US frees the men. They should be treated in the same way as the nine British citizens who have already been released from the US detention camp in Cuba, their lawyers argue.

The seven concerned are Bisher al Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Omar Deghayes, Wahab al Rawi, Jahida Sayyadi, Sabah Sunnoqrot and Abubaker Deghayes. All were resident in Britain, some as refugees, before they were captured by the US.

Bisher al Rawi and Mr El Banna, two businessmen, were seized in Gambia in 2002 by CIA agents after being held by British intelligence officers in the UK before being released. Chris Mullin, a former Foreign Office minister for Africa, says they were seized by the Americans after a tip-off by the British authorities.

Bisher al Rawi and Mr Deghayes say British intelligence officers who questioned them in Guantánamo Bay said they would be released if they agreed to work for British intelligence.

Lawyers, led by Rabinder Singh QC, have drawn up an 82-page document asking for a judicial review of what they say is the failure by ministers to honour their legal obligations. They say ministers are wrong in claiming they have no legal right to intervene because the men are not British citizens.

Moreover, the fact that the US has shown no interest in trying them through military commissions shows Washington "has no interest in detaining them for the purpose of pursuing any criminal charges against them", their lawyers say.

The detainees were suffering serious violations of their human rights and there was serious risk they were also suffering abuse amounting to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.

In a reference to Mr el Banna and Mr Deghayes, they say international law recognises refugees as particularly vulnerable, making their case even stronger.

The detainees' solicitor, Irene Nembhard of Birnberg Peirce, said yesterday: "The grounds of this claim point to British intelligence forces being complicit in both the seizure and interrogation of the detainees in Gambia and in Guantánamo Bay - what is now referred to as extraordinary rendition. Against this background, the subsequent refusal of the British government to seek the detainees' return and to deny any legal or moral responsibility to do so is reprehensible."

It was incomprehensible to the men's families that the foreign secretary refused to act in the light of the prime minister's comments in the Commons on November 22 2005 that the situation in Guantánamo Bay was an anomaly that ought to be brought to an end, she said.

Meanwhile, in the other prisons which the US and UK would rather you didn't know about in Iraq:

Detainees held by the British army in Iraq have been involved in disturbances this week in protest at being held without charge or trial, the Guardian has learned.

The governor of Basra has made representations to the British after complaints by family members who say that their relatives have gone on hunger strike in the Shaiba detention facility south of Basra.

Families of the men say that they were prevented from visiting their relatives on Thursday and blocked the road to the base in protest. They say that when a few did gain access they heard allegations of beatings and of men being attacked by dogs.

Yesterday a British military spokesman confirmed that some of the "internees" had been involved in disturbances and had been on hunger strike but were now "getting fed". The men are suspected of being involved in insurgency or terrorist activity in the British-controlled area.

Sadiq Mahmoud Karim, visiting Qasim Mahmoud Karim, who has been in detention for 18 months, said: "Some visitors decided to block the main road leading to the base and not move till they were allowed to visit their relatives."

And finally:

Lebanon yesterday became the third country to sign a deal with Britain that allows terrorism suspects to be deported back there. Under the deal, Lebanon, which has been accused of repeatedly breaching the human rights of its citizens, promises not to ill-treat anyone returned to it by Britain.

Amnesty International said Lebanon's human rights record continued to be of "serious concern". It said Islamist groups and opposition supporters had been detained without charge for political reasons and that there had been attacks on basic liberties such as freedom of expression and association.

The Foreign Office said a monitoring body would keep track of a suspect after deportation, but it is not clear which organisation would carry out this role. "We are in the process of identifying a suitable body, and discussions with the Lebanese authorities are ongoing," the Foreign Office said. It is also unclear whether any of the alleged terror suspects held pending deportation or subject to control orders are from Lebanon.

Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International said: "Torture, suspicious deaths in custody and the use of the death penalty are all matters of serious concern in Lebanon and it's dangerously misguided to expect countries with a known record of torturing people to respect bits of paper promising not to torture. So-called 'diplomatic assurances' of good treatment are frankly not worth the paper they're written on. The government should abandon this policy of trying to find a way around the international ban on torture and instead concentrate on condemning the torture of prisoners in places like Lebanon."

Mike Blakemore should also have added that the government has repeatedly failed to explain why these men cannot be tried in Britain. Is it because they have no case to answer, or because it would involve revealing British intelligence sources? The Independent reported earlier this month that some of those currently awaiting deportation or under control orders have not been interrogated or interviewed by either the police or MI5 the whole time they have been in custody. Why are these men apparently so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to go around in public, but who have also not seemingly committed any crime that the police or the security services wish to investigate further by interviewing the accused?

Those held in the Iraq camps are in a similar position of being held without charge. Those held at Guantanamo are apparently still being force-fed, as their hunger strike against the conditions there continues. It now seems that when our gentle hearts-and-minds winning British army stopped their prisoners from having visitors that they also rebelled. As to whether they have been ill-treated, who knows? Anything now seems to be possible or permissible. Merry fucking Christmas.

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