Back in the UK: What does life hold now?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The four Britons released from Guantanamo Bay were facing up to the harsh reality of attempting to rebuild their lives in their own country last night.

The four Britons released from Guantanamo Bay were facing up to the harsh reality of attempting to rebuild their lives in their own country last night.

Despite protests from their lawyers, Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga can now expect tough questioning by anti-terrorist police officers over their alleged links to al-Qa'ida terror groups. The interviews are expected to begin today after the men have been reunited with their families.

Mental health experts warned last night that by continuing to hold the men without trial they were prolonging their psychological trauma.

Professor Ian Robbins, the consultant clinical psychologist who first interviewed three of the five Britons released from Guantanamo Bay last year, said that apart from any physical torture that the men may have endured they would have to cope with the enormous psychological strain of a form of extended indefinite detention in their own country.

Professor Robbins spent several hours assessing the mental health of Shafiq Rasul, 27, Asif Iqbal, 22, and Rhuhel Ahmed, 22, all from Tipton, West Midlands, three days after they had been released by the Metropolitan Police in March last year. He warned that the symptoms they exhibited were part of a post-traumatic stress disorder and believed the condition of the four men released yesterday may be far worse.

"You can expect them to be very jumpy, hyper-vigilant and preoccupied with the same continuous thoughts running through their minds. They will be having nightmares and will be unable to sleep. They won't be able to stop having thoughts about what has happened to them. But unlike people who keep having the same memories over and over again, for these men it will be as if they are re-experiencing what happened to them."

The men released last year spent several months living in "safe houses" on the south coast away from the attentions of the media. The four men released yesterday are expected to seek similar sanctuaries.

Professor Robbins said one of their chief concerns during these days of captivity will be for all those detainees who they have left behind. "They will be remembering them and feeling a kind of guilt over the conditions in which they know they are still being held."

Even after their expected release from police custody the men will face further strains on their mental health.

The so-called Tipton Three remain haunted by their experiences and, 10 months on, still require counselling to help them to come to terms with what lawyers agree was exposure to prolonged "inhumane and degrading treatment". Under surveillance from the security services and subject to ever-present media attention, they are struggling to put their experiences behind them.

Professor Robbins advises the returning Britons to keep a low profile as the media compete for interviews upon their release.

"This is a time when the former detainees should be building relationships with their families. They will be disorientated and often appear emotionally detached as well as disenchanted by what they see around them. So it is important that they try to avoid the full glare of the media. This in some respects will be a judgement call for their solicitors."

A dossier compiled by four of the first five British men to be released from Guantanamo Bay alleges they were "repeatedly struck with rifle butts, punched, kicked and slapped. They were short-shackled in painful stress positions for many hours ... causing deep flesh wounds and permanent scarring".

It adds: "The plaintiffs were also threatened with unmuzzled dogs, forced to strip naked, subjected to repeated forced body-cavity searches, intentionally subjected to extremes of heat and cold for the purpose of causing suffering ..."

Letters written by Mr Begg, Mr Abbasi, Mr Belmar and Mr Mubanga during their detention in Guantanamo suggest they will have similar stories to tell.

But Professor Robbins, a psychologist at St George's Hospital in south London, who has also interviewed the terror suspects held at Belmarsh prison, said that what surprised him most was that none of the men displayed any desire for revenge.

"They just couldn't believe that a country like Britain had allowed it to happen," he said.

Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has written extensively about prisoners kept in solitary confinement.

"The most common problems are depression and feelings of profound alienation," he says. "There is a sense that no one in the free world quite understands what you have gone through or, frankly, understands what you are feeling.

"The routines of normal social life seem foreign and unfamiliar and, in many cases, become anxiety-arousing.

"A number of people who have been in long-term solitary-type confinement also experience some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares, anxiety or panic attacks, and instances in which they relive aspects of the trauma to which they were exposed."

Professor Haney has noted that some prisoners released from solitary confinement even attempt to recreate the conditions they were held in, in an attempt to cope with how they feel.

"Some attempt to manage their feelings by literally recreating the kind of environment from which they came - they live alone, literally or figuratively, arrange their rooms much as they were during their incarceration, and adopt many of the same behavioural patterns that they used in confinement to create a sense of internal control."

THE LEGAL POSITION

Detectives questioning the men at Paddington Green station initially have 48 hours available.

Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar are being held under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which refers to the "alleged involvement in commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".

Under the Act, police can apply for an extension of the interview for up to 14 days. After that they must either charge the suspects or release them. People found guilty under the legislation can face a maximum sentence of life in jail.

To mount a prosecution, the court would have to be convinced that the relevant material had been collected under the strict demands of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, almost certainly not applied three years ago in Afghanistan.

If the new group of detainees is not prosecuted, they will be under constant surveillance from the security services, an operation that would have to be approved by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.

Nigel Morris