By Felicity Arbuthnot
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller
The British government is, barely noticed, performing a sinister, potentially life threatening, legal slight of hand, regarding prisoners held without trial in Guantanamo Bay, uncharged with any crime, now cleared, after years of incarceration, for release.
Those who have fled their countries in fear of their lives, been granted leave to remain in Britain — refugee status the British government have now revoked, since they have been away from the country too long – in Guantanamo Bay. Therefore, they are in danger of being returned by the UK Authorities, to the countries from which they fled in terror. The (London) Independent, in an editorial (15th June 2007) calls this: “A shocking betrayal that shames our government”.
On Friday, Annas, the ten year old son of Jordanian born Jamil el-Banna – who was arrested in the Gambia in 2002, where he had gone to set up a business with his friend Bishar Al Rawi – in a gut wrenching letter to the incoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown – has begged him to return his father as a gift for Fathers’ Day on Sunday. The letter reads, in part: “I hope you won’t say that my dad was away from the country for over two years … my dad was only out of the country because he was locked up over there … Now my dad can leave .. we hope he can come back to us .. before Father’s Day. Every year this day is very sad for us. I hope this year, this day will be the best of my life.”
El-Banna’s wife and five children are all British. Mr el-Banna was granted “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK in 2000, indicating that the authorities believed he had a well founded fear of persecution.
Bishar Al-Rawi, el-Banna’s best friend, was released – and returned to Britain earlier this year. Seven other British residents are held in Guantanamo, in what their legal Counsel Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve (1) describes as: “.. hellish conditions .. brutal. All but one kept in constant isolation, living in six by eight foot cells, with no windows and unrelenting electric light. One has been on hunger strike for over a hundred days, tied down and force fed, twice a day” (a practice abandoned in Britain as beyond brutal at the turn of the 20th century and the suffragette movement) “Just like Bishar, none of them has been charged with a crime. Not one has had a trial. Justice demands that they be brought home.”
Another British resident has been cleared for release – but may be sent back to the country feared enough to flee. He is Ahmed Ben-Bacha. Ahmed Errachidi has already been returned to Morocco, where his British Attorney is attempting to estabish his status. Other British residents are: Shaker Aamer, Saiid Farhi, Mohammed Al Qadir, Binyam Mohamed, Abdennour Sameur and Omar Degayes, on whose behalf his brother Abu Bakr Deghayes (2) has mounted a ceaseless campaign.
James and Jill Armstrong, retired professionals, living in the west of England and others, have had enough. They will stand as sponsor and guarantor for British residents in Guantanamo, starting with Mr Ahmed Ben Bacha. They have also discovered a vital, enabling loophole in the law (see letter below). They hope others, in the UK and elsewhere, will make their initiative into a world wide movement, shaming the US government into closing down Guantanamo, cited by Amnesty as: “The Gulag of our time”.
It must be noted that it is necessary, in some cases, for nationals to take proactive action, since families fear pressure to such a degree, in the climate which prevails, that if resident in the UK or US, they fear deportation and if in their own countries, the wrath of the authorities of another kind. U.S. Independence Day, 4th July, in the ultimate irony, will mark the two thousandth day of the hopeless, pitiless, incarceration of those in Guantanamo Bay.
On 4th July 1776, Thomas Jefferson asserted the right of a nation to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Two searing accusations to the British monarch were: “For depriving us of the benefit of trial by jury” and: “… transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation”.
Two hundred and thirty one years later, the clock has turned full circle.