HUMAN RIGHTS FOR EACH PERSON REGARDLESS OF AGE, RACE, RELIGION OR POLITICS
Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna - Guantánamo Bay Prisoners
Jamil El Banna is one of nine British residents held in Guantanamo
Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna
"(My third son) got a prize at school for being a supercitizen. The first
person he thought of was his dad. He said, how can I tell him that I’m a
supercitizen?" Mrs El-Banna, wife of Jamil El-Banna
In 1997, Britain recognized Jamil El-Banna as a refugee from Jordan. His
wife and 5 children are all British citizens. Bisher’s family has lived in
the UK for 20 years, and they are all British citizens except Bisher, who
has long been recognised as a refugee. His family fled Iraq as Bisher’s
father had been detained and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The
British government’s refusal to make representations on their behalf means
that they are without any diplomatic support. Jamil El-Banna is married with
5 children. Bisher al Rawi is married with 4 children.
Jamil El-Banna and Bisher al Rawi are friends. They both prayed at the same
mosque and lent a helping hand in the Arab community. They are both
imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Bisher persuaded Jamil to come to the Gambia
to set up a business scheme developed by Bisher’s brother, Wahab. The idea
was to take advantage of the peanuts that grew plentifully there, and offer
a mobile peanut processing plant that could turn the crop into oil. Wahab
sank £250,000 into the programme, expecting to reap handsome profits.
The plan began to unravel before they even left the UK. The police detained
Bisher and Jamil, and alleged that they were carrying a dangerous weapon
abroad. Their lawyer, Gareth Peirce, went to the Argos catalogue store and
bought an identical "weapon" – proving that it was a battery charger. Two
MI5 agents then reassured Jamil and Bisher that they had nothing to worry
about going to the Gambia.
The moment they arrived at Banjul airport in Gambia on 8 November 2002, they
were arrested. Far from being "on the battlefield", they were further from
Kabul than London is. According to the Gambian authorities, the arrest was
made at the request of the British Government. Jamil reports how a U.S.
interrogator said, "Why are you angry at America? It is your Government,
Britain, the MI5, who called the CIA and told them that you and Bisher were
in Gambia and to come and get you. Britain gave everything to us. Britain
sold you out to the CIA."
The two men were held in total isolation in a "Dark Prison" for 2 weeks. It
was so dark that Jamil couldn’t see his fingers. During this time he was
punched, dragged along the floor and kicked. It was winter, but Jamil only
had a t-shirt, no shorts and no blanket.
They were then moved to Bagram Airforce Base. This was when Jamil’s wife
first heard from him, through the ICRC. He asked her how her pregnancy was
going and to pray for his safe return.
Since being taken to Guantanamo, Jamil has had health problems. He is
diabetic, but in 2004 they stopped giving him special meals, saying they
were "too expensive". Once Jamil refused a shower in protest after soldiers
had repeatedly desecrated the Qu’ran. They took him out and cut his beard
and all his hair off.
Bisher al Rawi is in an emotionally fragile state and he prays for an end to
this "dismal and depressing reality". "I don’t see hopeful signs yet. I am
waiting for something like a miracle – or better still, a real miracle – to
resolve this problem." His participation in the hunger strike over the past
months has left his body weak and malnourished. "I have to tell you it is
extremely strange being in this existence, without food for so long. I never
would have imagined this would happen to me that I would involve myself in
such an action – I pray that it will be fruitful."
Jamil and Bisher have had little contact with their families. Sabah El-Banna
has only had 2 letters from her husband in 3 years. Jamil was finally given
13 letters from his wife after a long legal battle with the US authorities
holding the letters. Jamil al-Banna has never seen his youngest daughter who
was born in April 2003 while he was in detention.
Despite their legal status in the UK, the British Government has refused to
take any step to help Jamil and Bisher come home. They do not care that
Bisher has been living in the UK for 20 years, or that Jamil has 4 children
born in Britain.
Jamal Abdullah Kiyemba - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
"He's not a British national and therefore we're not able to take up his
UK Foreign Office spokesperson
"Politics has it that I need to be British to get any help. Am I not? How
come? As any Military Police personnel in Gitmo, where’s this guy from?
Answer, they will say Britain! Check my incoming mail and you will find it’s
from Britain. The first interrogation I had…has been by Brits. Mt GP, my
local mosque, my teens, my education, employment, friends, taxes, home, and
above all else, my family – it is in Britain. I may not be British according
to some piece of paper, but in reality I am a Brit and I always will be…It’s
the Brits that have the ability to stop the injustice that is going on here
– to me and many others."
Jamal Kiyemba, February 2005
Having grown up in the UK, with his immediate family here, Jamal feels more
British than Ugandan, and asked the UK Government to help him return to his
family. However, the British Government refused to intervene. On October
28th, 2005, the US and his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, agreed he would be
sent to Uganda. Since Britain had abandoned him, there was no other option.
His detention in Guantanamo is only the latest chapter in Jamal’s hard life.
He was born in Uganda, to a catholic family. When he was 2 years old, his
mother moved to the UK, leaving him with his father. When he was 7, his
parents embarked on a messy custody battle. Jamal’s father was killed in a
tragic car crash, and Jamal then had to live with his 3 aunts, who passed
him around out of fear that his mother would kidnap him. Their fears were
confirmed when a private detective posed as his uncle and collected him from
school. He was taken straight to the UK. Jamal was sent back to Uganda by
his mother in 1996. He was given no warning. Fortunately, Jamal was helped
by his great-aunt to return to the UK, and he started at Leicester
University in 1997 where he studied Pharmacy and converted to Islam.
Jamal Kiyemba was seized while driving with friends by the Pakistani
military, at gunpoint on the 19th March 2002. After the assailants had taken
their money and any other items of value, the group were bound and
blindfolded, and taken to a disused police station where they were left
overnight. The following morning, Jamal, still bound and blindfolded, was
taken to be "interrogated" by a Pakistani officer. Jamal then spent 3 weeks
in a hole in the ground being interrogated by US agents. He was taken to an
airfield outside Peshawar, then to Bagram airforce base. This was the first
time he had ever been to Afghanistan. He was held there from the start of
June until October 27th, 2002. Total silence was enforced at gunpoint. "The
(call to prayer) was considered talking and the caller would be punished.
The same applied to reciting the Qu’ran. I was punished for an audible
recitation of the Qu’ran, and the second time for audibly making the call to
prayer. No group prayers were allowed."
During interrogation, Jamal was subjected to a routine where he was hung on
a door for 2 hours, allowed to sit for half an hour, and then hung up again;
he was not allowed to sleep. The American interrogators told him that if he
did not admit to having planned jihad in Afghanistan, then what lay ahead
for him was far worse than what he had already faced. In Bagram, Jamal
witnessed the murder of a prisoner who tried to escape.
After he arrived in Guantanamo, Jamal was exceptionally polite and
co-operative. However he became a victim of the abuse of the Extreme
Reaction Force (ERF), which is supposed to enforce discipline at Guantanamo.
Jamal has also suffered from medical problems: on 7th March 2005, he told
his lawyer: "I feel as if something or someone is on my chest trying to
squeeze the life out of me. I cannot move. Sometimes I feel I cannot
breather. Sometimes I feel something is covering my mouth to stop me calling
for help. I am grabbed by panic. I seem to hear what is going on around me,
but I cannot move. I seem to see part of the room I am in…but I cannot turn
to see the rest. ..It happened to me first when I was locked up in Pakistan.
Here it is more frequent. Maybe 2 or more times a week."
Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
"The youngest…he doesn't even know who his Daddy is because he has never
seen him or spoken to him until this day" – Mrs Z. Aamer
Shaker Aamer has a home in Battersea with his British wife and four British
children, the youngest of whom he has never seen. His application for
British citizenship was in progress when he was seized in Afghanistan and
imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. He has been threatened with rendition to Egypt
If the British Government denies him the rights to return to this country,
his wife will be without a husband and his young family without their father
Shaker grew up in Medina, in Saudi Arabia. He left home when he turned 17,
and went to America. He spent a happy year in Maryland, before returning to
Saudi Arabia. Then he travelled in Europe and the Middle East, before moving
to London where he met his wife Zinnira Siddique, and started a family.
Zinnira said she married Shaker because she saw the kindness in his heart,
and he made her laugh. "He is so funny. If he was here now, he would make
you laugh." Shaker was a hands-on dad, changing nappies without complaint
and entertaining the baby. Michael was born in 1999, and Saif a year later.
Shaker always told Zinnira that he wanted 12 children, but he has never set
eyes on his 4th child, as Faris was born after 2002, after Shaker had been
seized by the US Military.
Shaker worked as an Arabic translator for the solicitor who advised him on
his immigration case. People always approached him for advice about their
problems, and translating for refugees put Shaker where he loved to be – in
the role of counsel, listening and advising. He needed more work to support
his expanding family, but he was hampered by his immigration status. Until
he had British nationality, it would be hard. Shaker dreamed of starting his
own business selling clothes. He travelled to the Middle East, collecting
samples of material. Shaker and Zinnira wanted to find a perfect home for
their family, and better opportunities for Shaker, while his status in
Britain was resolved. They decided to look in a Muslim country. They made
trips to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and, in June 2000, Shaker visited
Afghanistan to do voluntary work for an Islamic charity. He stayed in Kabul,
sharing a house with Moazzam Begg, the British detainee released from
Guantanamo in January 2005. Soon after he arrived in Afghanistan the country
was pitched into war in the wake of 9/11. When the bombing in Kabul began,
Shaker moved to Jalalabad and, fearing he would be taken prisoner by the
Northern Alliance, went into hiding with an Afghani family. Soldiers arrived
and seized him at gunpoint. He was sold, first to the Northern Alliance, and
then to a group in Kabul. He was taken to somewhere outside Kabul in the
middle of the night. A helicopter arrived, and when he heard the sound of
American accents, he was filled with relief. But he had been sold yet again,
this time to the U.S.
Shaker was taken to the Dark Prison in Kabul where he suffered such torture
that he cannot talk about it. Then he was taken to Bagram Airforce Base
where he was forced to stay awake for 9 days without food. Next he was taken
to Kandahar where he suffered yet more cruelty. "They were jumping up and
down on me in their boots, on my back and head. Yelling about my religion,
my family and my race. A soldier took the holy Qu’ran and threw it in the
shit bucket on the floor."
When Shaker arrived in Guantanamo, he was assured he would never leave.
"You’ve come to your end. You will not be going anywhere from here." Shaker
says he was thrown to the ground, beaten and stripped naked, and that the
soldiers stuck their fingers up his anus. When he was eventually given his
prison uniform, they gave him clothes many sizes too small. It was the
beginning of a ritual of humiliation and abuse that has lasted without
respite for nearly 4 years.
Because he is well-educated and acts as a translator for the other prisoner,
the U.S. Military named him "The Professor". They think because of the
status that is bestowed on him he must be a major leader among the prisoners
Because of this, Shaker was kept in isolation for a year. He had no window
and only an opening for the air-conditioning. He was often kept in freezing
conditions in nothing but shorts. His frame wasted from lack of food, and he
was denied a tooth-brush for 8 months.
Shaker has been treated brutally during interrogations. In the interrogation
room, Shaker is tied up on the floor for hours before the interrogation
begins. Frozen by the air conditioning, he is not allowed to use the toilet
and defecates himself.
Despite all the attempts to break his humanity, Shaker remains the kind and
supportive man Zinnira remembers. He looks out for his fellow detainees,
acting as "next friend" for those without a lawyer.
Zinnira and her 4 children have been waiting 4 years for their husband and
father to return home. "Whenever Shaker travelled before he would always
come home quickly because he missed his family. He is taking a long time
this time." Zinnira received sporadic letters from Shaker until June 2003.
She has heard nothing from him in over 2 years. Shaker has written his wife
a 20 page letter, but his lawyer is not allowed to deliver it. The children
do not know where their father has gone. Zinnira says, "My children are very
sensitive, so I have told them he has gone abroad to study. I think they
would take it very badly if they knew the truth."
The absence of her husband has taken an immense toll on Zinnira’s health and
she has spent some time in hospital. She would wander the corridors knocking
on doors. When the person came out asking why she was knocking on the door
she said "I am looking for my husband."
Whilst the British Government is refusing to make representations on his
behalf, Shaker is on hunger strike. In a recently declassified statement,
"I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to
all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for
many years… I have problems many problems from the filthy yellow water…I
have lung problems from the chemicals they spread all over the floor…I am
already arthritic at 40 because I sleep on a steel bed, and they use
freezing air conditioning as part of the interrogation process. I have
ruined eyes from the permanent, 24-hour fluorescent lights. I have tinnitus
in my ears from the perpetual noise…I have ulcers and almost permanent
constipation from the food. I have been made paranoid, so I can trust nobody
not even my lawyer. I was over 250 lbs. I dropped to 130lbs in the hunger
strike. I want to make it easy on everyone, I want no feeding, no forced
tubes, no 'help', no 'intensive assisted feeding.' This is my legal right."
Omar Deghayes - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
"When we discussed his participation in the hunger strike, Omar recently
told me, ‘I am dying slowly in here anyway. And the Americans say they will
send me back to Gaddafi, which means I will die painfully there. So I may as
well take my destiny into my own hands.’ I am very concerned that Omar will
lose his life, either because the U.S. refuses his basic human rights, or
because the U.K. does not care enough to prevent his rendition to Libya. It
is time the British government recognized its responsibility to someone who
has lived in Britain more of the past 20 years than I have."
Clive A. Stafford Smith, Omar’s lawyer and Legal Director of Reprieve.
Omar Deghayes is a long term British resident, a refugee from Libya, who has
been detained in Guantanamo Bay, a victim of mistaken identity and grotesque
injustice. He is being held without charge in Guantanamo, and the British
Governent takes the position that as Omar is not a British citizen they
cannot make representations on his behalf. British Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw said: "We can represent British citizens (but) we cannot represent
those who choose not to seek British citizenship and make their own choices
presumably because they want to maintain the citizenship of their birth."
Omar has been visited by Libyan officials in Guantanamo where he was told
"You have no problems with the U.S. You’re problems are with us."
Omar moved to the U.K as a teenager and secured refugee status after his
father, Amer, had been murdered by the Gadaffi regime. Amer was a prominent
lawyer in Libya who pioneered the trade union movement. When Gadaffi came to
power in 1968 Amer was offered the post of Foreign Minister. Recognizing
that the regime he was being asked to join was oppressive, Amer declined. He
was a man of integrity, an idealist who believed in justice. Because of this
Amer was consistently harassed and threatened.
One Sunday in February 1980, during the family’s weekly gathering, Gadaffi’s
men came for Amer. He was executed 3 days later. Viewed as
counter-revolutionaries, the rest of the Deghayes family was then a target
for persecution. It took 6 years, but Amer’s wife Zohra managed to get them
all out. They went to the U.K, settling in Brighton, which they had been
visiting for years and where they had many friends. Even in the U.K. the
family continued to receive threats from Libya.
Omar and his family were given refugee status in 1987, recognized by the U.K
and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Omar was
grateful for his refuge. He and his brother Monder played football on
Sundays for their local team and Omar contemplated trying out for Brighton
and Hove Albion.
Omar had inherited his father’s compassion and sense of justice. He did
voluntary work for Sussex Prison Service, giving religious guidance to
Muslim prisoners. On one occasion he persuaded 3 Muslim asylum seekers to
give up their hunger strike. While the rest of his family took out British
citizenship, Omar did not, as he felt committed to his father’s dream of
bringing justice to Libya. He studied Law at university, took the legal
practice course, and was a student member of the Law Society.
As his studies ended, Omar decided to take a year off to see with his own
eyes how people in Muslim countries lived. His refugee status made it
difficult to visit many countries, but in 2000 he went to Afghanistan, as he
was able to get permission to stay and was told there would be plenty of
scope for helping the poor. It was in Afghanistan that Omar met and married
his wife who became pregnant with his son, Suleiman.
In the wake of 9/11, Omar feared for his family’s safety and went to
Pakistan, intending to travel from there back to the U.K. But Omar, his wife
and baby were seized and handed to the U.S. A Libyan delegation led by
Gadaffi’s elder son tried to force his wife and baby to go to Libya. They
only barely escaped. Meanwhile, Omar was sent to Bagram Airforce Base. Some
months later Omar’s mother Zohra received a card in Brighton that read "Mum,
I’m in Guantanamo Bay."
Omar did not understand why he was being held and the U.S. authorities have
refused to provide him with any official charge. However, 3 years after his
false arrest, it is possible to reconstruct how the U.S. military made their
mistake. In a search, Spanish authorities seized a videotape depicting
Islamic rebels in Chechnya. An anonymous informant then identified a rebel
in the video as Omar, whereupon the Spanish added a subtitle to identify the
person on the tape as "Mr. Deghayes". On the basis of this the Spanish
issued a warrant for Omar’s arrest, and passed the tape onto the U.S.
authorities. The tape was then aired on an episode of the tabloid TV program
America’s Most Wanted, with Omar identified as a Chechen rebel. Omar’s story
was eventually investigated and told by the BBC. The BBC was able to secure
a copy of the Spanish tape: immediately Omar’s lawyer and family saw the
tape they knew it was not Omar. An independent expert, Doctor Tim Valentine,
concluded that the person on the tape was definitely not Omar Deghayes.
Indeed, it was later confirmed that the person on the tape was one Abu Walid
a Chechen rebel who was killed in April 2004.
This has now been brought to the attention of the U.S. authorities, but Omar
continues to be held without charge.
Because the British government wants to believe that that Col. Gadaffi has
reformed his style of Government, the British currently take the position
that Omar must apply to Libya for "consular assistance". Since arriving in
Guantanamo, it is clear what kind of "consular assistance Omar can expect
from the Libyans. He received visits from Libyan officials on September 9th
and 11th 2004. They said to him: You have no problems with the U.S. Your
problems are with us." They repeatedly told him, "We know everything about
you and your anti-Gaddafi activities."
Omar Deghayes continues to be the victim of some of the harshest abuses un
Guantanamo because he is an educated mad who speaks fluent English, and
therefore tries to intercede on behalf of the other prisoners. In one
incident, Omar was ERF’d where the soldiers saturated his eye with pepper
spray, and then used fingers to gouge at his eyes:
"They gouged my eyes and left me permanently blind in my right eye. While I
can see nothing out of it, my eye is very sensitive to light. It is
particularly painful when they leave the bright neon lights on all the time.
I had an injury when I was a child to that eye, and it is very sad that
after all the efforts my parents went to save my sight then, I have now been
Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
"I chose Britain because as an African…I felt more comfortable that I would
receive hospitality from the British people and fairness from the British
Binyam Mohammed is an Ethiopian refugee who lived in North Kensington. He
had been in Afghanistan, leaving just after September 11th because of the
escalating violence. He was seized in Pakistan whilst trying to return to
the UK after all his travel documentation was stolen. Binyam was questioned
in Pakistan by the U.S, and then rendered to Morocco by the CIA where he was
tortured until out of desperation he confessed to being part of a "dirty
bomb plot". He arrived in Guantanamo in September 2004, after spending 5
months in the "Dark Prison" in Kabul and then Bagram Airforce Base. On
November 7th 2005, the U.S "charged" Binyam and he now faces "trial" before
the universally derided U.S. military commission. The U.K. government is
silent on his behalf, and as a refugee and British resident, Binyam has no
other hope of consular assistance.
Binyam was born in Ethiopia. His father, Ahmed, worked for Ethiopia Airlines
Binyam always looked up to his brother, Benhur, who is 6 years older than
him, but was closest to his younger sister, and was Anna’s best friend
growing up. "Binyam was popular at school, and everyone would want to be on
his team for games of football or other sports," she recalls. "Binyam
enjoyed athletics and was the fastest runner on the school track team. He
was gifted academically and was one of the top students in his class. His
favourite subject was maths." What Anna remembers best is that her brother
would never lie. "There were several times when Binyam had done something
wrong, and instead of lying to get out of trouble, he would admit what he
had done. Our father would often reward Binyam for his honesty by taking him
out for ice-cream."
After the Government changed in Ethiopia, Binyam and his family were in
danger. They opposed the communist Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary
Democratic Front as, in Binyam’s words, "The EPRDF was undemocratic, its
policies were based on ethnic division and it had no respect for human
rights." Binyam went to live with his sister in America for a year, and then
sought asylum in the U.K.
He lived in London for 5 years where he obtained 5 GCSEs and was working for
an engineering diploma. He was good enough at football to consider a
semi-professional career. As a young man Binyam ran into difficulties and
started using drugs. He rediscovered Islam, and started volunteering at the
cultural centre of his mosque. "He is remembered here as a very nice, quiet
person, who never caused any trouble," says Abdulkarim Khalil, the Mosque
Binyam decided to travel to escape his old drug haunts and kick the habit.
He also wanted to see the Taliban with his own eyes, to decide whether
Afghanistan was a "good Islamic country or not." He travelled from London to
Afghanistan in June 2001, but after September 11 he fled the violence to
Pakistan. He wanted to get back to London, but his travel documents had been
stolen from him, so he went to Karachi Airport on April 10, 2002. He was
arrested by the Pakistani immigration unit.
On April 20, 2002, the U.S. military showed an interest in him. Binyam is
unwilling to lie, but he was also unwilling to talk to them, since he had
nothing to do with America. "I refused to talk in Karachi until they gave me
a lawyer. I said it was my right to have a lawyer. The FBI said, "The law
has been changed. There are no lawyers. You can co-operate with us the easy
way, or the hard way."
The U.S. authorities seemed to believe that Binyam was some kind of big fish
"The British talked to me in Pakistan. I was there for three and a half
months. They checked out my story, and they said they knew I was a nobody.
They said they would tell the Americans. I have struggled with how I came to
mean such a lot to them."
On July 21st, 2002, Binyam was put on board a C.I.A plane and rendered to
Morocco. There, he endured 18 months of torture, including having a razor
blade repeatedly taken to his penis. He ultimately confessed to a "Dirty
Bomb" plot at a dinner on April 3rd, 2002. Binyam did not even speak Arabic
at the time this dinner was alleged to have taken place.
On January 21st, 2003, Binyam was taken from Morocco to the Dark Prison in
Kabul, where he underwent 5 more months of torture. He spent more time in
Bagram before arriving in Guantanamo in September 2004. As if this catalogue
of abuse were not enough, the U.S. chose to charge him on November 7th 2005.
He now faces a military commission decried by Lord Steyn as a "Kangaroo
Court," and criticised as "rigged to convict" by 3 military prosecutors who
resigned rather than continue to take part.
Meanwhile, Binyam’s family had been searching for answers since his
disappearance. His sister was visited by the FBI in the United States and
told that he had done nothing wrong. Benhur travelled to London to try and
find his brother. Binyam’s sister Zuhra combed Pakistan by telephone and
e-mail. It was only in 2005 that they found out he was in Guantanamo.
In July 2005 Binyam and an unknown number of Guantánamo detainees went on
hunger strike to protest against the harsh conditions and their lack of
access to any judicial review. They ended the protest because the US
authorities agreed to meet their demands to be treated in accordance with
the Geneva Conventions, and said that these changes had been personally
approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
On 12th August the strike was resumed. In an unclassified statement Binyam
said "It is now August 11th 2005. They have betrayed our trust again. Isham
from Tunisia was badly beaten during interrogation, and they publically
desecrated the Qu’ran 9again). Sa’ad from Kuwait was ERF’d for refusing to
go (again) into interrogation because the female interrogator had sexually
humiliated him (again) for 5 ½ hours. Omar the kid from Canada was ERF’d
(again) for refusing to go to another illegal interrogation. Therefore the
strike must begin again. I do not plan to stop until I either die or we are
respected. People will definitely die.only ask for justice: treat us, as
promised, under the rules of the Geneva Conventions… while we are held, and
either try us fairly for a valid criminal charge or set us free".
Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi remains detained in Guantánamo Bay without access
to judicial review. His hope is that "the British people will hold the
British Government to its word" so that he can "go back home" to London.
Ahmed Errachiddi - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
"We do not take responsibility for other countries' nationals, purely on the
basis of residence in the UK"
UK Foreign Office Minister Valerie Amos
Ahmad Errachiddi is a Moroccan who has traveled in London for almost 18
years. A husband and father of two, in 2001 he traveled to Pakistan on a
business venture to raise money for medical treatment for his young son.
Seeing the Afghan War in television in Pakistan, Ahmed traveled to
Afghanistan to offer humanitarian assistance. He soon realized there was
nothing he could do to help, and that it was too dangerous for him to stay
in Afghanistan. He returned to Pakistan where he was kidnapped by bounty
hunters and sold to the U.S. Military. He was eventually taken to Guantanamo
Bay, where he remains. His fluent English and caring attitude to other
detainees has convinced the military personnel in Guantanamo that Ahmad has
some authority among the prisoners. As a result of this they nick-named him
"the General" and have subjected him to punitive punishment and kept him in
isolation for two years. Ahmad Errachiddi has been before the widely
condemned Combatant Status Review Tribunal in Guantanamo where, in his
absence, without a lawyer and with no information relating to evidence of
the "charges" against him, he was found to be an enemy combatant.
Ahmad Errachidi was born in Tangiers, in Morocco. He has worked as a cook in
London for almost 18 years. The best man at Ahmad’s wedding, Mohammed
Khenoussi, lives in North London and describes Ahmad as a "loyal,
trustworthy and totally unselfish friend." He is a faithful husband, and the
devoted father to his two young sons.
Ahmad is a passionate chef, proud of the accolade he earned at the Centuria
restaurant on St. Paul’s Road from one food critic, who said that Ahmad’s
was the best fish he had ever tasted.
Ahmad’s young son needed a difficult and expensive operation for a blocked
tube in his heart. The condition the child suffered from can become fatal
without surgery. Ahmad planned a new business venture to eventually pay for
the operation. His idea was to take all of his savings and go to Pakistan to
buy silver jewellery inexpensively, selling it at a profit in Morocco.
Ahmad flew to Pakistan on September 26th, 2001. He spent time in Islamabad,
investigating the viability of his silver business. Leaving his cheap hotel,
he watched CNN and Al Jazeera news footage of the U.S. bombings in
Afghanistan on a colour television at a nearby mosque. He saw civilians,
even children, suffering. Impulsively, he delayed his business plans and
went to Afghanistan to offer humanitarian assistance to the civilians there.
Later, in a letter sent from Guantánamo Bay, Ahmad would describe his
decision: "I entered Afghanistan to help the poor children and the women and
to partake in their calamity, to taste what they taste, and to fear just as
they fear, and to be hungry just as they are hungry." Ahmad saw at first
hand the ‘collateral damage’ in the U.S. assault on Afghanistan. He vividly
describes standing on a hill watching a U.S. plane fly through a clear blue
sky to drop a bomb. It struck a busload of men, women and children, and the
bus folded like an accordion. As he ran to help, he saw how a woman’s head
had split open like an egg, her brains spilling out. Body parts of children
were spattered around the roadside.
Ahmad soon became convinced that it was too dangerous for him to stay in
Afghanistan, and that he could offer no meaningful support. He was just
another burden. It took him several days to get back to Pakistan. He
remained in Pakistan for a further month trying to salvage the original
purpose of his trip. However, he was seized in Islamabad by Pakistani bounty
hunters who sold him to the U.S. military. At that time the U.S. was
offering $5,000 – twenty years’ salary for some Pakistanis -- for each
foreign Muslim "terrorist" who was handed over.
From Pakistan, Ahmad was transferred to Afghanistan where he spent several
months in various detention centres. His true suffering began there. At
Bagram Air Base, the sign on the door of the interrogation room read Janaham
-- "Hell" in Arabic. After 26 days of torture and interrogation it literally
became Hell for Ahmad.
Eventually, he was transferred by the U.S. to Guantánamo Bay, where he
remains to date. He was welcomed by an officer who told him: "We’re going to
dictate your food, your sleep and when you shit." Ahmad is not inclined to
accept such orders, or to keep quiet when he sees an injustice. He speaks
English fluently, and when the occasion merits, he speaks it loudly. Because
of his constant interventions, the U.S. military thought he was a leader.
They dubbed him ‘The General’ and warned him: "You have to get off the stage
You put yourself on a place so high that you’ve got a long way to fall."
Yet, as Ahmad says, "as a human being I hold the right to give help to
another human being regardless of race, religion or creed." Ahmad laughs at
the irony of his elevation: "The cook has become the General overnight,
charity is now called terrorism, and the U.S. has made the breaking of an
egg into the bursting of a bomb."
As a result of the authorities’ perception of him, he has been in punitive
isolation for over two years, the longest period served in isolation by any
In October 2004, Ahmad went before the widely criticised Combatant Status
Review Tribunal (CSRT) for review of the ‘charges’ against Ahmad and
assessment of Ahmad’s status as an enemy combatant. Kate Allen, director of
Amnesty International UK has said of these tribunals: "US Authorities have
spent 3 years preparing Military Commission trial proceedings at Guantanamo
that fall below international fair trial standards. "Evidence" extracted
under torture can be used in these proceedings, the accused can simply be
excluded from his own trial at any moment and there is no independent review
of the process whatsoever…"
The burden was on Ahmad to prove his innocence. In this CSRT Ahmad was not
given the right to a lawyer. The chef from London became distressed during
his pre-CSRT interview when the summary of evidence was read to him. He
wanted to know who said he was a member of al Qaida, and of the GICM. He was
told that this was secret. When Ahmad demanded justice, the Tribunal
President said that, "by his actions … the Detainee chose not to participate
in the process." Therefore, the process rolled on without him. Even the
Tribunal President conceded that the unclassified evidence against Ahmad was
either "not persuasive" or "provided no usable evidence," so he had to rely
on "certain classified evidence". Ahmad could not know what this was.
The Tribunal unanimously concluded that Ahmad "is properly classified as an
enemy combatant and is a member of, or affiliated with, al-Qaida and was
part of or supporting the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group." Sitting in
isolation, Ahmad wrote to his mother,
"Know, mother, that your son Ahmad is not in prison because of a crime or
drugs or robbery. I am in prison because I wanted to wipe away the tear of a
little boy who lost his parents, who has been terrified, so I was moved by
his plight and I remembered my infancy. I am a hostage and traded commodity.
No matter how long it takes, the days of the sale will come and the market
will close its doors and the dust will settle and the buyer and the seller
will be known, and only the anecdotes and the memories will remain."
Other UK Residents - Guantánamo Bay Prisoner
At least 2 other British residents are known to be detained in Guantánamo
Bay in addition to those named above. These are: Ahmed Ben Bacha , an
Algerian who lived in Bournemouth. His case has recently been filed and
little else is known about him.
Abdulnour Sameur , an Algerian refugee who lived in South Harrow, London. He
was given refugee status in 2000, and had travel documents. He was seized in
Prominent lawyers and Human Rights experts have consistently pointed out
that the fundamental breach of human rights at Guantanamo Bay is to render
stateless those it detains: They are held beyond the reach of national laws
both of their own country and that of the US, as well as international
conventions. By failing to acknowledge its responsibility and demand the
safe return to the UK of those it once protected, the British government is
reneging on its duty and colluding in the continued torture and illegal
detention of British residents in Guantanamo Bay.
Zohra Zawawi, mother of Omar Deghayes Plea
Zohra Zawawi is the mother of Omar Deghayes. Omar is one of eight British
residents, abandoned by the government and languishing in Guantanamo Bay.
Whenever I try to express my feelings of sadness due to my beloved son’s
absence, I find my brain incapable of doing so. Whenever I remember him in
my mind or in my soul, the tears pour out of my eyes and I cannot stop them
at all. The tears feel as if they would go on for eternity.
How can I tolerate my existence in the house without him? I find his smell
in every corner of the house where he lived. How do I cope with the
knowledge that we eat everything we like while he does not eat even a little
or the fact that we sleep on our comfortable beds while he does not even
get to sleep. Instead he is tortured to prevent him from sleeping!
Every morning when I get up and wash my face with clean warm water and
perform the ritual ablution in order to pray, I remember him and how he does
not even have water. So how do you think I feel thinking of my son in a cold
narrow cell without sunshine or fresh air? I cannot sleep at night because
of the sadness I feel when I think of my son, (and when do I forget?) It
breaks my heart to think that my handsome, well-groomed son who took such
pride in his appearance does not even have clothes to wear. It breaks my
heart that he has not had a comb to brush his hair in three years. He told
me how sad he was to see that his hair had turned grey from all the stress.
Worst of all it breaks my heart when I think of his milky white eye which
has been blinded so deliberately and callously by the American guards. My
late husband was so determined that Omar does not lose his eye when Omar was
accidentally poked in the eye by another child. The advice in Libya was to
remove Omar’s eye but my husband refused and took Omar to Switzerland as it
had the most advanced eye treatment at the time. Omar underwent extensive
and repeated treatment and numerous surgeries to ensure that he keeps his
eye functioning as well as possible. He has had to visit his eye Professor
every year since then to receive painful laser treatment. Alas, all that
effort, pain and money is completely destroyed in such a brutal way.
Sometimes I cannot tolerate staying in the house because of his absence from
me as he was my best companion. How can I tolerate my existence in the house
while I see the room of my dear son closed and empty, so empty of my beloved
son? My cheerful, vivacious son who never left me alone particularly in the
absence of his brothers. However, now I only have his shadow in my
I am absentminded and distraught and every place becomes narrow for me
whenever I remember him which is all the time. He is in this cursed jail for
so many years in conditions which are not even fit for animals. I pray to
Allah during every prayer that he is released and that he finds people who
treat him kindly and compassionately. My heart is ruptured with sadness. I
swear that if I could express what I feel properly even tens of papers would
not be sufficient. However, this is all I could express. So what shall I say
and what do I say when his little son Suleiman comes to me and asks me,
"where is my daddy? Where is my daddy and when is he coming so I can meet
him?" When he asks me, I feel the world is pulled from under my feet. I pray
to Allah that he comes back to me and to his son soon before I die so that I
can feel happy and embrace him while he is in a good condition.
Everyday I wait for a letter or some news from him but they are so hard to
come by. My anxious feeling choke me up as I wait for the arrival of
anything from him that comforts me.
Even when I receive a letter from him, I find half or more of the letter
erased. They have begrudged me even the pleasure of hearing his news but
Allah never neglects those who are in his custody.
I swear by Allah that my son is innocent of all these charges. Omar loves
all people and loves helping people. Have mercy on those on Earth and God
will have mercy on you.
The mother who yearns for her son.
Concerned physicians write Blair regarding the medical attention in Guantanamo Bay
The Right Hon. Tony Blair,
10 Downing Street
Tuesday 25th October, 2005
Dear Mr Blair,
We write as concerned physicians regarding the medical attention being given
to the detainees on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, including, according to
Amnesty International, at least 6 British residents. US military spokesmen
confirm that 22 hunger strikers are being force fed. The World Medical
Association, in its 1975 Declaration of Tokyo on Torture and again in the
1991 Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers specifically prohibits the use
of force feeding of hunger strikers.
Fundamental to doctors' responsibilities in attending a hunger striker is
the recognition that prisoners have the same right as any other patient to
refuse medical treatment. Our own government has respected this basic human
and legal right even under very difficult political circumstances and
allowed hunger strikers to die in Northern Ireland in the early 1980's.
Doctors (and politicians) do not have to agree with the aims of the prisoner
or the steps the prisoner is taking, but they must respect the prisoner's
informed decision. Doctors breaching such guidelines should be held to
account by their professional bodies, specifically Dr John Edmondson, the
commander of the US naval hospital at Guantanamo.
We would urge your government, which so far has remained silent, to
intervene to ensure that those detainees currently being held in Guantanamo
are being properly assessed medically by independent physicians and to
ensure that techniques such as force-feeding are abandoned forthwith in
accordance with internationally agreed legal and ethical standards.
Dr David Nicholl,
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Just in case you forgot - read the Universal declaration of Human Rights