2000 days of Guantánamo: a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of the British residents still held in Guantánamo Bay


Today, 2000 days after the prison in Guantánamo Bay first opened –- which, ironically, falls on the day that Americans celebrate their independence –- the UK’s National Guantánamo Coalition will deliver a letter to Gordon Brown requesting that he acts to secure the release of the British residents still imprisoned in Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer, Jamil El-Banna, Ahmed Belbacha, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi and Abdulnour Sameur. According to lawyers at Reprieve, two Algerians, Farhi Said bin Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qadir, are also British residents.

For further information about the shocking treatment of Shaker Aamer, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi, see the detailed Cageprisoners article, British Residents in Guantánamo Bay. For other information about Jamil El-Banna and Ahmed Belbacha, see my recent article The Perils of Return: Repatriated to Torture. Not mentioned in these articles is Abdulnour Sameur, and to mark 2000 days of Guantánamo I shall tell something of his story.

Abdulnour SameurA deserter from the Algerian army –- because, he said, he was ‘made to go in the streets and shoot innocent people’ –- Sameur, who was born in Algiers in 1973, sought asylum in the UK in 1999 and was granted leave to remain in 2000. After travelling to Afghanistan in summer 2001 –- primarily, it seems, to investigate what he had been told was a pure Islamic state –- he was captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. In Guantánamo, he responded to an allegation that he had claimed that he had prior knowledge of 9/11 by saying, “I told them this in [the US prison in] Kandahar during the interrogations because the interrogators were dogs … I had an injury in my leg. I had metal sticking out of my leg and they would not clean the wound; they would not give me treatment. So I told them whatever they wanted to hear. They just wanted anything. Any information. I just told them anything, whatever they wanted to hear because I wanted them to treat my leg. I saw other people whose legs had to be cut off (amputated as a result of injuries). I did not want my leg to be cut off … If you were in my place, if you were in Kandahar you would have done the same thing. Just like a small child.”

This is the text of the letter, and its signatories:

Dear Prime Minister

We, the undersigned, relatives of British residents detained in Guantánamo Bay detention facility, former Guantánamo prisoners, lawyers for the prisoners, and concerned individuals, call upon you to use all means at your disposal to obtain the return to this country of all British residents illegally detained at Guantánamo Bay. All have made homes in this country; some, like Omar Deghayes after fleeing possible torture and death in Libya. They have now been detained for five years or more without charge or trial, in a prison where UN officials have documented torture and abuse. We are very concerned about their physical and mental well-being.

Today Americans celebrate their Independence Day, rightly highlighting the concepts of equality, liberty and rights enshrined in their Constitution. Today, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay sadly celebrates its 2000th day. The Guantánamo Bay prisoners are denied those cherished rights: the ‘unalienable rights’ to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, the rights to a speedy trial, humane treatment and due process contained in the US Bill of Rights. Instead, 375 people are still subjected to arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, denied the rights that mark civilised society and the rule of law. This is having a devastating effect on the physical and mental health of the detainees. At least four detainees have died within the last 13 months. We are marking this day with the launch of an exhibition and public meeting on Guantánamo at the House of Commons and welcome you to attend.

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said he would have Guantánamo closed ‘this afternoon’ rather than tomorrow. We call for you, likewise, to add your voice to the calls for its closure.

No-one has been released from Guantánamo as a result of a legal process. The British government’s refusal to act on behalf of the British residents leaves them in a legal black hole. We ask that the British Government accept its moral responsibility for these men and negotiate for them to be reunited with their families here or in a safe place of their choosing.

We urge you to make this a priority in the first days of your premiership. To ignore such abuses will set back any ‘war on terrorism’. Please do everything you can to bring back the British residents before their health and lives are irretrievably damaged.

Yours sincerely

Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo detainee, Cageprisoners
Ruhal Ahmed, former Guantánamo detainee
Bisher Al Rawi, former Guantánamo detainee
Airat Vakhitov, former Guantánamo detainee
Mourad Benchellali, former Guantánamo detainee
Shafiq Rasul, former Guantánamo detainee
Mrs El-Banna, wife of British Resident held in Guantánamo, Jamil El-Banna
Amani Deghayes, sister of British resident held in Guantánamo, Omar Deghayes
Mrs Aamer, wife of British resident held in Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer
Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, LL.M, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor for International Human Rights Protection, University of Vienna, Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Lord Nazir Ahmed
Baron Dholakia
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Baroness Frances D’Souza
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, Cageprisoners
Clive Stafford Smith, Legal Director, Reprieve (counsel to many prisoners)
Zachary Katznelson, Senior Counsel, Reprieve
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
Jean Lambert MEP
Sajjad Karim MEP
Caroline Lucas MEP
Clare Short MP
Salma Yaqoob MP
Geoffrey Bindman, Chair of the British Institute for Human Rights
John Pilger, Journalist, author & film-maker
Tahir Butt, Metropolitan Police, Spokesman for Association of Muslim Police
Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister, Professor of Law, Birkbeck College
Louise Christian, Christian Khan
Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty
Natalia Garcia, lawyer for British resident in Guantánamo, Tyndalwoods
Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers
Vanessa Redgrave, Actress
Corin Redgrave, Actor, Guantánamo Human Rights Commission
Kika Markham, Actress
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Yvonne Ridley, Journalist
Dr Azzam Tamimi
Tariq Ramadan, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford St Anthony’s College, Lokahi Foundation (London), Visiting Professor, Erasmus University, Holland, Doshisha University (Japan)
Ian Macdonald QC, Garden Court Chambers
Naim Malik, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Nusrat Chagtai, Director, British Muslim Human Rights Centre
Richard Hermer, Doughty Street Chambers
Mudassar Arani, Arani & Co Solicitors
Javaid Rehman, Professor of International Law and Director of Research, Brunel University
Dr David Nicholl, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Estella Schmid, CAMPACC
Dr A. Sivanandan, Writer, Institute of Race Relations
Ian Waller, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute, London Metropolitan University
Lindsey German, National Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Imran Khan, Imran Khan & Partners
Victoria Brittain, Author and playwright
Matt Whitecross, Revolution Films, Director, The Road to Guantanamo
Aki Nawaz, Fun Da Mental
Andy Worthington, Author, The Guantánamo Files
Ruhul Tarafder, 1990 Trust
Naima Bouteldja, Journalist
Linda Rogers, Peace & Progress
Errol Walters, Director of Black Londoners Forum
Karen Chouhan, 1990 Trust
Helen Shaw, Co-Director, INQUEST

For more on the British residents in Guantánamo, see my book 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.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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