Guantanamo Britons' lawyers face American gagging order

Click to follow
The Independent US

A lawyer will today fly to Guantanamo Bay to visit two British prisoners incarcerated there for more than two years. But because of a gag order imposed by the Bush administration, the lawyers will be able to share only the barest of details of what the prisoners tell them - even with their families.

A lawyer will today fly to Guantanamo Bay to visit two British prisoners incarcerated there for more than two years. But because of a gag order imposed by the Bush administration, the lawyers will be able to share only the barest of details of what the prisoners tell them - even with their families.

Lawyer Gita Gutierrez will fly to the naval base for a meeting with Feroz Abassi and Mozzam Begg. It will be first time that the two men have spoken with anyone other than soldiers, intelligence officials and diplomats since they were imprisoned more than two-and-a-half years ago.

Five other British prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay earlier this year said there was widespread abuse at the camp, similar to that perpetrated on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad. But even if the Britons still incarcerated make similar claims, the lawyers will not be able to raise the issues.

"It's the most restrictive gag order possible," said Jen Nessel, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has been petitioning the US government on behalf of a number of prisoners. "They will not even be able to tell [Mr Begg's father] Azmat what the state of his son's health is."

Louise Christian, a London-based solicitor who represents two prisoners, added: "The problem is that there are a lot of restrictions being placed on the visits. And they have still not been told what the charges against them are or why they are being held at Guantanamo Bay." Ms Gutierrez is one of three lawyers who were due to travel to the US naval base in Cuba this weekend. Brent Mickum, who was due to meet another British prisoner, Martin Mubanga, and Joe Margulies, who was to have spoken to an Australian prisoner, postponed their visits after being told by US government lawyers that if they made the trip they could not be guaranteed any further meetings with their clients.

The lawyers said the decision by Department of Justice lawyers had ignored a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court which declared that the prisoners at Guantanamo have the right to challenge their imprisonment.

"It is a preposterous situation. The government's behaviour is shameful," said Mr Mickum, who was also due to visit two British residents held at the prison camp, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna.

The visit of Ms Gutierrez comes as the Pentagon last week started military tribunal proceedings against four other prisoners, including Australian David Hicks. Mr Begg and Mr Abassi are among up to 11 other prisoners who are likely to face tribunals, the first such hearings to take place since the Second World War.

Mr Begg's father was in New York where he attended the US premiere of the play Guantanamo Bay: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, in which the character of Mr Begg was played by the actor Harsh Nayyar. The play, which opened at the Tricycle Theatre in London, was written by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo and received glowing reviews in many leading US papers.

The play is based on the recollections and letters of several British prisoners who were or are incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.

Last March, five British prisoners were released without charge from Guantanamo. In addition to Mr Begg, Mr Abassi and Mr Mubanga, another British citizen, Richard Belmar, is being held there there.

The Independent on Sunday previously revealed that Mr Mubanga had told his family about alleged physical and sexual abuse at the prison in a series of letters in which he used a mixture of London street slang, Cockney, Jamaican patois and rap lyrics in order to get his letters past the military censor.

The Foreign Office has confirmed that it is investigating allegations of abuse that Mr Mubanga recently made to a British official who was visiting the prisoners. But Ms Christian said the Foreign Office was refusing to reveal the nature of the alleged abuse because it did not want to breach Mr Mubanga's data protection rights. "It's ridiculous," she said. "Why are they able to talk about some aspects of his incarceration but not the abuse?"

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said that she could not provide details of Mr Mubanga's allegations in order to protect "consular confidentiality". "We only ever provide the basic facts," she said.

Comments