Jamil El-Banna’s first interview since returning from Guantánamo

9.1.08

Little noticed by the wider world, Jamil El-Banna, one of three British residents freed from Guantánamo in December, gave his first interview after his release to Jenny Engstrom of the Willesden and Brent Times. The article was published as the newspaper’s front page story on December 27, but, as it is does not appear to be available on the internet, I’ve taken this opportunity to reproduce the main body of it here.

The Willesden and Brent Times’ campaign to free Mr. El-Banna began in February 2006, and was a regular feature of the paper’s coverage until his release in December. For further information about Mr. El-Banna’s story, and the Spanish government’s request for his extradition on ill-founded terror charges, see here. Information about his first, brief extradition hearing (with Omar Deghayes), which took place on January 9, 2008, will follow shortly.

“Just So Happy To Be Home”
EXCLUSIVE by Jenny Engstrom

Newly released Guantánamo detainee Jamil El-Banna has told of his relief at being reunited with his family in an exclusive first interview with the Times. With his long tangled white beard and grey flowing hair, grown in protest of his mistreatment at the US detention camp, Jamil El-Banna looks much older than his 45 years. But despite his five-year ordeal in Guantánamo, he looks surprisingly cheerful and relaxed, with a spark in his eyes.

Jamil El-Banna and his children

Caption from the article: “The first family portrait: Jamil El-Banna with his children Anas, 12, Mohammed, 11, Badeah, six, Abdulrahman, eight, and Mariam, four.”
Exclusive picture by Jenny Engstrom.

Sitting on his living room couch surrounded by all his children, Mr. El-Banna decided to give his first interview to the Willesden and Brent Times, which has been campaigning for his release for nearly two years. He said, “I’m just so happy to be home and to be back with my children. It’s wonderful to see them all, and to see my youngest daughter, Mariam, for the first time. I’m so grateful to the Times campaigning for me all this time and for keeping the issue in the public eye.”

The father-of-five was reunited with his family outside their home last Thursday, following his release from the US base in Cuba the day before. His children ran out in the street as the police van bringing him home pulled up outside their front door. It was the first time he had met his youngest daughter, Mariam, 4, who was not yet born when Mr. El-Banna was detained by the Americans.

The emotional homecoming proved too much for his eldest son, Anas, 12, who broke down in tears after embracing his father for the first time in five years. His wife, Sabah, said, “It was so emotional, Anas started crying. At first Mariam was a little scared. She didn’t recognize her dad with the long hair, but soon enough she calmed down. Marian has waited her whole life for this day. It was the first time she got to hug and kiss her dad and the first time he got to hug her.”

Mr. El-Banna also spoke of his ordeal in Guantánamo. He said, “It’s been hard. But one thing that kept me going all these years was the support I got from people all over the world and from all religious and social backgrounds. I received thousands of letters. I have tried to reply to the people who wrote to me, but I have not been able to answer all of them. Please accept my apologies. I don’t want them to feel I ignored them, but sometimes I wasn’t given enough paper by the guards.”

He added, “I would also like to thank all my solicitors: Gareth Peirce, Zachary Katznelson, Clive Stafford Smith and Brent Mickum, who have all helped me and my family, and also my MP, Sarah Teather. They have all supported my wife and children while I’ve been away. I can’t thank them enough. I feel they understand my situation and I will never forget everything they have done for me.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

2 Responses

  1. Spanish judge resumes torture case against six senior Bush lawyers by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] (a left-wing political party) — and three former Guantánamo prisoners (the British residents Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, and Sami El-Laithi, an Egyptian freed in 2005, who was paralyzed during an [...]

  2. 2009-10-08 Request to RCMP to arrest George Bush when he is in Canada. COMPREHENSIVE argument. » The Battles says...

    [...] (a left-wing political party) — and three former Guantánamo prisoners (the British residents Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, and Sami El-Laithi, an Egyptian freed in 2005, who was paralyzed during an [...]

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