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Tuesday, October 03, 2006 

The modern gulag and Catch-22.

Two of the Tipton Three, held in Guantanamo for two years.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, wrote Orwell in Animal Farm, as the original principles of the revolution were gradually but surely eroded. A similar situation seems to have developed in the attitude of the British government towards the remaining nominally British detainees stuck in the legal limbo hellhole which is Guantanamo Bay. The Guardian today reports that the government has decided to more or less abandon 8 of them, even after months of wrangling over plans to repatriate them.

The one detainee they are prepared to welcome back, Bisher al-Rawi, was first denounced by MI5, who told the CIA that he was in possession of bomb parts. Now they've admitted that al-Rawi was in fact an intelligence asset, one who was involved in monitoring the radical cleric Abu Qutada, alleged by some to have been the spiritual leader of al-Qaida in Europe. Qutada himself, along with Abu Hamza, is now known to have at least been approached by MI5, hoping that they would help monitor extremists, in return for them being left alone. A Times article from 2004 alleges that Qutada was a double agent, who pledged to help MI5, but was in fact setting up his own terrorist network. Could it be possible that al-Rawi, having severely embarrassed MI5 by showing that they were involved in his rendition, now want al-Rawi back before he spills the beans about his spying on Qutada?

As for the rest of those trapped in Guantanamo, the United States is demanding that they be monitored 24 hours a day, and banned from meeting with "known extremists" or leaving the country. The UK, for its part, calls such demands ridiculous, knowing full well that a good majority of those still at Guantanamo are either innocent of all they are accused of, or those at the very lowest rungs of jihadiism.

Some of the allegations against those being held are both familiar and laughable. Omar Deghayes, who came to Britain with his family when he was 16 to escape Gadafy in Libya after his father was executed by the regime, is accused of "having a good relationship with Osama bin Laden" and being seen in a Chechen militant training video, similar to how the Tipton Three were accused of appearing in the crowd of those listening to a speech by bin Laden. Benyam Mohammad has both the most serious allegations and conclusive evidence against him, but also has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Shaker Aamer, who knew Mozzamm Begg, also has indefinite leave to remain, and was seeking British citizenship while living in Afghanistan, where he was captured in fighting by Afghan troops. Jamil-el-Banna has refugee status in the UK, and was captured along with al-Rawi in the Gambia. He too had some association with Abu Qutada, but seems not to know enough for MI5 to care about him. Spain wants to extradite they say he has with a terrorist group. Ahmed Errachidi, who has indefinite leave to remain in Britain, had another allegation similar to those against the Tipton Three made against him, that he had been at a training camp known as al-Farouq in July 2001. His lawyers have the payslips and bank transactions that show that he was working in London at the time. Like other innocents who have turned up in Guantanamo Bay, he was captured by bounty hunters and sold to the US. Ahmed Belbacha, who has exceptional leave to remain in the UK, was vetted by MI5 in 1999 to work at the Labour party conference. The US alleges that he received training at a camp in Afghanistan and met the beard master himself, Osama bin Laden, twice. Abdelnour Sameur, who also has leave to remain in the UK, was captured in Pakistan shortly before the Taliban were overthrown. Accused of fighting in Bosnia and going to Afghanistan for further training, he rather humourously claimed to have had knowledge of the 9/11 terror attacks in an attempt to get a gunshot wound to his leg treated. Whether that contributed to his detention to Guantanamo is worth wondering about.

The men are stuck in a catch-22 situation. Men that are claimed to pose such a little threat that carrying out surveillance on them would be a waste of time and money are denied re-entry to a country where they have either been granted leave to remain or asylum. British officials also claim that human rights legislation means that they would be unable to deport them if they were allowed back here, but on what grounds would they be considered for deportation in the first place if they pose no threat? The US also faces the problem of sending them back to their countries of birth due to the supreme court ruling which Bush has tried his best to legislate around. Nothing they can seemingly do will free them from detention without charge, and an attempt to get the courts to force the government into repatriating the men failed, despite the judges recognising that there was a powerful political case for them to be freed.

All of this is rather shocking, especially when you consider that numerous ministers have now lined up to condemn Guantanamo, with the lord chancellor and the Dear Leader's ex-far from flatmate Charles Falconer calling the prison camp a "shocking affront to justice". Such remarks are exposed as the window-dressing, sop to the Labour party faithful and lefties that they are when the government he belongs to refuses to rescue men from constant uncertainty and petty abuse, which in some cases may well amount to torture. Doubtless, the Sun and the usual suspects would make a huge noise about "extremist fanatics" being allowed back onto British streets, but isn't Labour meant to be based around values and compassion, or does that only apply to the those who deserve it through their "responsibilities"? None of the previously released British citizens from Guantanamo have been charged with anything or posed a problem since being flown back here. Why should those still there be any different?

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