‘I’m excited but cautious,’ Amani Deghayes, the sister of Libyan-born Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes, told News Line yesterday.
She was responding to news that UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has made a written request for the release of five British residents from US custody at Guantanamo Bay, including her brother.
Amani added: ‘It’s a great shift in policy and I hope that Omar and the others are going to be returned to the UK soon.
‘In Bishar’s (UK citizen Bishar al-Rawi) case, it took a whole year to bring him back after a definite agreement. We don’t have an agreement for Omar yet, so I’m cautious.’
Previously the UK government said it could not intercede as the five are not British citizens.
Miliband has now formally written to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requesting the release of Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer, Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohammed al Habashi and Abdulnour Sameur.
They are UK residents who had either been granted refugee status, indefinite leave or exceptional leave to remain prior to their detention.
The Foreign Office warned yesterday that ‘discussions with the US government about the release and return of these five men may take some time’.
It added in a statement: ‘The government will, of course, continue to take all necessary measures to maintain national security.
‘Should these men be returned to the UK, the same security considerations and actions will apply to them as would apply to any other foreign national in this country.’
Foreign Secretary Miliband and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said they had made the request because of recent steps taken by the US government to reduce the number of inmates at the camp in Cuba and ‘to move towards the closure of the detention facility’.
Justifying its refusal to act so far, the Foreign Office added: ‘We judged that it would also have been counter-productive, at that time, to our wider aim of securing closure of the detention facility.
‘The situation has now changed and the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary have reviewed the government’s approach in the light of these circumstances.’
Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said: ‘This is hugely welcome news for the men and their families after all these years of suffering and uncertainty – and the government should now move quickly.
‘We’ve been saying for several years that the UK should have been seeking the fair trial or safe release of the UK residents imprisoned at Guantánamo.
‘Guantánamo is a travesty of justice and it’s important that the government starts speaking out about hundreds of men still held there; they must not become Guantánamo’s forgotten prisoners.
‘Meanwhile, the UK government should unequivocally condemn the practice of “rendition” and secret detention, both of which have “fed” the system at Guantánamo in the past five years.’
• A British soldier from 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh was killed in southern Iraq on Monday night, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.
An MoD statement said the soldier died as a result of a small arms fire attack during an operation in Basra, southern Iraq. The attack occurred at approximately 2320 hours local time in the Al Fursi district of Basra City.