Britons detained in Guantanamo Bay are freed without charge by anti-terror police

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The four Britons who returned from Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday after being held captive for almost three years were released without charge last night after being held by police for just under 28 hours.

Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga will be taken to separate safe houses where they will start the process of becoming reacquainted with their families after being questioned by anti-terrorism police at the top-security Paddington Green police station in west London.

Their release comes after their lawyers raised concerns that further detention after their years of imprisonment without trial at the US camp in Cuba would be a breach of their human rights.

A spokesman for Amnesty International UK, Neil Durkin, said the four men should not have been detained upon arrival in the UK. "They have already been detained for three years, and upwards of three years in some cases."

He added that the UK authorities had an "obligation to listen carefully to allegations of torture and act on them".

Unlike the first detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in March last year, the men had been given the opportunity to be visited by a family member while being held at the station.

Moazzam Begg's father, Azmat, speaking before his son's release, said that although he had not yet seen his son he had been told that he was "not all that well". He added: "He is irritated and not very happy. He is demoralised by Guantanamo Bay, feeble and very thin."

The detainee's solicitor Gareth Peirce, who did spend time with him yesterday, explained that he was obviously seriously affected by three years of ill-treatment and torture.

Louise Christian, the solicitor for Mr Abbasi and Mr Mubanga, had said she was "very worried" about the men's health, particularly Mr Abbasi. "He has an air of unreality about him. He doesn't know where he is. Like all victims of torture he's finding it difficult to talk about it."

She explained that he was struggling to adjust to life outside the harsh conditions at Guantanamo. Ms Christian said: "He told me that when they asked him if he wanted a hot drink he said no, he just wanted a glass of water.

"He was used to the situation where in Guantanamo when he asked for something he would be abused."

Ms Christian read out a statement to police during Mr Abbasi's questioning warning them that his detention was in breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act and his interrogation was an abuse of process.

Mr Abbasi, 24, was taken to the camp after being arrested on the battlefield in Afghanistan in December 2001. He was is the only one of the four to have been arrested while allegedly engaged in combat. Mr Belmar, 25, and Mr Begg, 37, were arrested in Pakistan, while Mr Mubanga, 32, was detained in Zambia.

Ms Christian said that her clients had been offered the chance of being reunited with their families while being held by police, but as there would have been a police officer present at all times they turned it down. She said: "They want to be reunited with their family members in private."

Yesterday afternoon, Ms Peirce emerged from the police station saying: "They are playing with these men. It is a silly political exercise for show."

Asked how Mr Begg was, she said: "Better than you would expect after three years of torture.

"He's waited three years to see his father in dignified, free conditions and that is how he wants to see him."

Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, added to criticism of the men's incarceration: "After three years of torture and questioning, even the Americans have concluded they are innocent and our security forces also had access to question them over there. What sort of homecoming is this? They are innocent people."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorist branch, said: "We have discussed this case with members of the Muslim community and recognise that there are strong feelings about the return of these men to the UK. But the fact is that we have an absolute duty on behalf of all communities to investigate the circumstances leading to the men's detention."