Guantanamo is a really horrible place that destroys people,’ former prisoner Bisher El-Rawi told a 60-strong meeting in west London on Saturday.
The meeting, organised by the London Guantanamo Campaign, was to highlight the plight of Binyam Mohamed who now faces trial at a US military tribunal on terror charges that carry the death sentence.
In a recent letter, read out at the meeting, appealing to UK Prime Minister Brown, Mohamed writes: ‘I have been held without trial by the US for six years, one month and 12 days.
‘That is 2,234 days (very long days and often longer nights). Of this, about 550 days were in a torture chamber in Morocco and about 150 in the “Dark Prison” in Kabul.’
The 29-year-old, from west London was detained in April 2002 as he tried to return to the UK from Pakistan.
He says that any evidence was obtained by torture and he has been ‘deeply betrayed’ by the British state which he says supplied evidence to his Moroccan torturers.
Bisher El-Rawi commented: ‘I’m not sure how Binyam can come up with the figures in his letter as you were not allowed a calculator or mobile phone.
‘The reality of Guantanamo is far too sad and shocking.
‘Please understand there is a crime going on – grown men are being hurt every day.
‘You wake up, you hurt – you go to sleep, you hurt.
‘They have achieved the meanness that is the worst.
‘Guantanamo is a unique place.
‘It is a really horrible place that really destroys people.
‘They take you apart and destroy you every day – your physical, your mental health.
‘Guantanamo must be closed down.
‘I’ve been released now for over a year.
‘We all still have problems.
‘Every day people in Guantanamo or other similar places is a day too long.’
He added: ‘I met Binyam. I had a horrible deal but what happened to Binyam was much worse.’
Bisher concluded: ‘We cannot forget the suffering.
‘If we do not do something, there is nobody else. The cries of the prisoners in detention –there is no-one to hear them, only us.
‘So I hope we and others will hear them and do something.’
Opening the meeting, David Harrold of London Guantanamo Campaign said: ‘When you leave, I hope each and everyone of you will feel enlightened, angry and determined to do something for Binyam Mohamed who is local to this area.
‘He lived just off Golborne Road, worked at the North Kensington City Challenge in Ladbroke Grove and studied at Paddington Green College.’
He added: ‘Binyam was one of those “rendered” in 2002 from Pakistan to Morocco, where he endured 18 months of interrogation and torture.
‘From there he was flown to an underground prison in Kabul and then to Guantanamo.
‘An unnamed American interrogator is said to have told Binyam “the law has changed now – there are no lawyers”.
‘Well there are lawyers and MPs and activists who are ready to campaign for Binyam as they have for other Guantanamo detainees,’ he said introducing local Labour MP Karen Buck.
Buck told the meeting: ‘I’m Binyam’s MP. I was very heavily involved in the campaign to bring Richard Belmar back from Guantanamo Bay.
‘It took a considerable amount of time and campaigning to get him back.
‘To me, this is not to do with individual circumstances.
‘Any crimes they may or may not have committed are irrelevant.
‘It is important that we uphold due process of law.
‘That was not upheld in the case of Belmar or Mohamed.’
She concluded that after meetings with Foreign Office officials and the Foreign Secretary: ‘I believe the British government will bring Binyam back.
‘I will ask the Prime Minister to stand by his promise to have Binyam released.’
Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather told the meeting: ‘I hope we can put pressure on the British government to get Binyam back.’
She said the Americans had said they have people they are prepared to release if other countries will take them.
Referring to detainees from Europe, she added: ‘Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he would put pressure on other EU countries to bring people back home.
‘The British government did the right thing, though not in a very good way.’
Teather concluded: ‘We have to be willing to work with coalitions to get Binyam justice.
‘He should have his day in court, but it should be in a fair court.’
Chris Chang from Binyam’s solicitors, Reprieve, said: ‘After a long period of time, when the British government stood firm to demand the release of British residents, Binyam was one of them.
‘I’m disappointed he is still not released. He has every right to be here.
He is from here, he lived here for seven years.
‘He is a prisoner – someone who has been held and tortured for five or six years without charge is not a detainee, he’s a prisoner.
‘We find ourselves in a world where the Americans get someone else to do their dirty work.’
He added: ‘Now he faces trial at a military tribunal – his torture goes on.
‘One of the prosecutors has said no-one who has a trial at Guantanamo will be acquitted.
‘It’s political. After holding them for six years without charge, the US can’t let them free.
‘There are not going to be fair, open trials in front of the world.
‘I hope you will keep the pressure on the British parliament.
‘The British government needs to continue to press the US government.
‘I was disappointed by the response of the UK government.
‘The Treasury Solicitors said the UK is not obliged by international law to insist that evidence obtained by torture is not admissible in trials in another country.’
Camilla Jelbart of Amnesty told the meeting that statements by British officials about Binyam indicate that ‘the UK government may have had knowledge he was going to be rendered’.
She added that in response to calls from Binyam’s lawyers to provide proof that evidence was extracted as a result of torture, British officials said that ‘the UK in law is not obliged to help a court in another country’.
Jelbart said: ‘Across the world there is a lack of will by governments to investigate what is going on.
‘We need to investigate to find out what has gone on and bring the torturers to justice.
‘The UK government has repeatedly denied involvement in rendition.
‘But recently the US government said the UK had had renditions at Diego Garcia.
‘The UK have had to say “we made a mistake”.’
Aisha Maniar of the London Guantanamo Campaign said there are still three British residents in Guantanamo Bay.
She called on everyone to join the campaign’s picket outside Downing Street, from 6pm-8pm on 24 July, as well as regular Friday 6-7pm pickets outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London.