Family calls on US to free last UK resident in Guantanamo Bay

As four others are released, man who 'confessed' under torture may face a military commission
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The Independent Online

Lawyers for Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi, the last UK resident to be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, last night called on the Foreign Office to exert pressure on the US to free him.

The call came after the announcement yesterday that four others will be returned to Britain within weeks, but the US authorities blocked a British government demand for Mr al-Habashi's release. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said the 28-year-old Ethiopian has been left psychologically shattered by the torture he suffered as an early victim of the CIA's policy of extraordinary rendition.

The other four detainees, all of whom lived in Britain and were granted refugee status or leave to remain in the country before their arrests, will be released before Christmas. Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdenour Samuer will come back to Britain, but Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer will be returned to Saudia Arabia, his home country, where Amnesty International believes he may face immediate arrest and further incarceration.

Although the reasons for Mr al-Habashi's continued detention remain unclear, the US is believed to be determined that he should face one of Guantanamo's military commissions derided as "kangaroo courts" by Michael Ratner, president of the US Centre for Constitutional Rights which could jail him for life.

Mr Stafford Smith said there was no evidence against Mr al-Habashi. "He was taken to Morocco and had a razorblade taken to his penis. Naturally, as any human being would do, he made statements saying whatever they wanted to hear. They [the US authorities] believed that stuff.

"I've seen no evidence in Binyam's case that isn't evidence that was tortured out of him. The bottom line is that we're happy for him to face a fair trial, if that's what everyone wants to do. But the problem we do have is that trying him using torture evidence, using secret evidence, is giving him an unfair trial. The British Government has made it perfectly clear, the military commissions are unfair."

Previously the Government had not intervened in the men's cases as they were not British citizens and the US refused to negotiate with a third country, but it relaxed this stance under pressure from civil rights organisations, including Amnesty. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, wrote to his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, in August to request the men's release.

The Foreign Office refused last night to confirm the men's impending return, but said: "We have considered the circumstances of each case with the US and are in contact with the families and legal representatives of those concerned."

Moazzam Begg, released from Guantanamo Bay in 2005, said Mr al-Habashi's case would be complicated by his involvement in the military commission process. "He could have to plea bargain to a crime that he believes does not exist anywhere else except in Guantanamo Bay," he said.

The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith told the BBC that Britain had rejected the US's initial demand that the prisoners be detained immediately on their return here as a condition of their release. "I think we did take a principled and proper stand it took longer to get them back than I personally would have liked, but at least they did come back," he said.

Mr al-Habashi came to Britain aged 15 and went to Afghanistan in 2001. He was arrested by the CIA at Karachi airport and "rendered" to Morocco, where he was tortured. He arrived at Guantanamo Bay in 2004. The US linked him to a conspiracy to let off "dirty bombs" despite a later admission that there was no actual plot. Under torture, he was said to have confessed to meeting four of Osama bin Laden's associates, though two of the four were in custody at the time.