UK: Government must act now for Guantánamo detainees

The two men, who were originally arrested on arrival at Banjul Airport, Gambia on 8 November 2002, are among the more than 650 individuals currently held without charge or trial, access to the courts, lawyers or their families in the United States (US) Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'For the UK to ignore its responsibilities in this manner is legally and morally wrong. There should be immediate representation to the US authorities to ensure that the human rights of these men are upheld.

'They must be either charged or released, rather than left in the legal limbo of Guantanamo Bay or put before the second-class justice of a military tribunal. Their right to legal counsel and to challenge the legality of their detention in a court of law must be respected.'

Since assuming its responsibilities as an Occupying Power in Iraq, the UK is obliged under international law to make representations on behalf of Iraqi nationals. Similarly, the UK is obliged under international refugee law to make representations on behalf of Jamil Al-Banna, whom the UK authorities have recognized as a refugee in the UK.

Lesley Warner added: 'The chain of events raises serious questions as to whether the UK authorities may have played a role, directly or indirectly, in the initial arrest and subsequent detention of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna in Gambia, and their eventual unlawful rendering to US custody.'

According to information available to Amnesty International, Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna were held in incommunicado detention for a period of approximately two months in Banjul while they were reportedly questioned by US investigators on their alleged links with al-Qa'ida. Amnesty International received information indicating that both men were transferred to the US air force base at Bagram, Afghanistan, probably in early January 2003. Since then, they have been transferred to Guantánamo Bay where they are currently held.

The UK authorities have refused to make representations on behalf of Bisher Al-Rawi notwithstanding the fact that he has been a resident in the UK for over two decades and that many of his family members are UK nationals. Amnesty International believes that the detention conditions both at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airbase contravene international human rights standards. The human rights organisation's many requests for access to both locations have been repeatedly refused.

Background

Since late November 2002, Amnesty International has been monitoring the cases of Bisher Al-Rawi, and Jamil Al-Banna. Both men were arrested and detained on arrival at Banjul airport in Banjul, Gambia, on 8 November 2002, purportedly on suspicion of alleged links with al-Qa'ida.

They were arrested with UK national Abdullah El Janoudi, by members of the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA). A fourth man, Wahab Al-Rawi, Bisher Al-Rawi's brother, also a UK national, who had gone to the airport to meet them, was also arrested at the same time. The four men had reportedly travelled to Gambia in connection with a peanut processing company set up by Wahab Al-Rawi.

Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil Al-Banna and Abdullah El Janoudi had all been previously arrested on 2 November 2002 at Gatwick airport, UK, the day they had originally planned to travel to Gambia. They were questioned for two days by UK authorities in London, purportedly on suspicion of alleged links with 'terrorist' groups, before being released without charge. Upon release, at least one of them was told that there would be no further action.

In addition, Amnesty International understands that Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna may have been questioned or otherwise contacted by the UK authorities, including during visits to their homes, on other occasions since 11 September 2001 but had never been charged with a criminal offence. In particular, Jamil Al-Banna was reportedly visited at home by members of the UK intelligence services shortly before 2 November 2002; these authorities were informed of his intention to travel to Gambia.

Amnesty International has sought clarification from the UK authorities as to whether they informed either the Gambian or US authorities of Bisher Al-Rawi's and Jamil Al-Banna's arrest and subsequent release in the UK and/or their departure for Gambia.

On 8 November, the three men left the UK for Banjul and, as stated above, were arrested together with Wahab Al-Rawi on arrival. According to information available to Amnesty International, after an initial period of questioning by the NIA at the NIA headquarters in Banjul, they were then questioned by US investigators. During this time, the men were held in several undisclosed locations in Banjul.

At least one of the men was allegedly threatened by US investigators who told him that unless he co-operated he would be handed over to the Gambian police who would beat and rape him. The US investigators also reportedly 'apologised' for injuries sustained by one of the suspects during what they termed a scuffle with Gambian guards.

Wahab Al-Rawi and Abdullah El Janoudi were released without charge on or around 5 December and were returned to the UK.

Their initial transfer to Bagram and subsequent one to Guantánamo Bay took place despite the fact that they had not been allowed to consult with lawyers, and despite the fact that a habeas corpus petition on their behalf was pending in the courts in Gambia.

Amnesty International has also been informed that the Gambian authorities, through the Gambian High Commission in London, hindered attempts by relatives of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna to ascertain the whereabouts of the two men by refusing to authorize power of attorney instructing a lawyer in Banjul to act on their behalf, thereby significantly delaying introduction of the habeas corpus petition.

Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna were rendered to US custody in a manner which circumvented any judicial process, including extradition procedures, in further violation of their internationally recognised human rights.

From the information available to Amnesty International, it appears that both Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al-Banna were under surveillance in the UK, possibly on account of intelligence received from US officials.

Amnesty International would be greatly concerned if the UK authorities had indeed had reason to believe that Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil Al-Banna and Wahab Al-Rawi would be arrested upon arrival in Gambia, including for the eventual purpose of their being unlawfully rendered to US custody, particularly given that their arrests in Banjul took place so soon after Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil Al-Banna and Abdullah El Janoudi were released without charge in the UK.

Many of those detained at Guantánamo Bay have been held for well over a year in conditions the totality of which may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of international law. None has had access to a court, to legal counsel, or to relatives. Most are held in tiny cells for up to 24 hours a day with minimal opportunity for out-of-cell exercise.

There are nine UK nationals currently detained in Guantanamo Bay including Feroz Abassi whose detention was described by the UK Court of Appeal as 'in apparent contravention of fundamental principles recognized by both jurisdictions [US and UK] and by international law', Moazzam Begg from Birmingham, England, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul from Tipton, England, who remained in US military custody at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial or access to the courts, lawyers or relatives.

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