The Independent – 2007-06-15 22:54:03
LONDON (June 15, 2007) — Sometimes, confronted with the absurdities of officialdom, you do not know whether to laugh or to cry. The release of Jamil el-Banna, a British resident held for the past four years at Guantanamo, is apparently being complicated because the British authorities refuse to allow him back.
And on what grounds are they refusing? He is deemed to have forfeited his “indefinite leave to remain” by staying abroad for more than two years.
Now we know that the US administration had Camp Delta rebuilt and loses no opportunity to praise conditions there. We also know that it complies with some aspects – it decides which -of the Geneva Conventions. But Guantanamo is not exactly Club Med.
It is a prison camp in an unpleasant climate zone, which exists – despite the best efforts of human rights campaigners and the US Supreme Court – in a judicial limbo.
For the British to argue that this period of involuntary detention annuls his asylum status is ridiculous. The suspicion must be that something more sinister than bureaucratic folly lies behind it. Was it that they were casting around for a pretext to keep Mr Banna out of Britain and this was the best they could come up with?
And is it then their intention that he should be forced to return to Jordan, the country he fled more than 10 years ago? If so, the decision is not merely ridiculous, but cynical, immoral and unjust.
If Mr Banna was granted asylum in Britain – which he was – then this was because it was recognised that he faced a well-founded fear of persecution. In 2000 he was granted indefinite leave to remain. That should mean what it says, unless the authorities can prove that he deliberately flouted any conditions this entailed and knew what the consequences would be.
A year ago, Mr Banna was one of three British residents who tried, and failed, to compel the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to assist them, as he had assisted the British citizens whose release was – eventually – obtained. The court rejected their plea, on the grounds that residents are not guaranteed the same rights as citizens.
In the case of Mr Banna, however, and several of the other known British residents still held at Guantanamo, things cannot be so clear-cut. Mr Banna’s case for being treated as a British national is particularly strong. He was legally resident, and his citizenship application was in train. His wife and five young children are British.
But it is not only his asylum status that makes Jamil el-Banna’s case disquieting. He was not captured on a battlefield, in Afghanistan or anywhere else. He and an associate, Bisher al-Rawi, were detained when they arrived in Gambia on business. They were handed over to the US authorities, who “rendered” them to the notorious Bagram prison in Afghanistan, from where they were dispatched to Guantanamo.
It turned out that their arrest had been co-ordinated by British and US intelligence. It also turned out, from statements given to their lawyers, that both had been in contact with MI5. Once in US hands, they were in a double bind. They suffered all the liabilities from their contacts with Islamic groups but, as non-citizens, they enjoyed no protection. In the end, the British government interceded on behalf of Mr Rawi, who was released earlier this year. There can be no doubt it owes an equal obligation to Mr Banna. If there is evidence that his past activities have broken laws, he should be charged and tried in the normal way.
It is betrayal to deny someone refuge that has already been granted. It also traduces the principle that a person is innocent until guilt is proved. Worse still, it leaves the impression that this government is content to let the CIA do its dirty work. Let Jamil el-Banna return home.
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