‘My nightmare is finally at an end,’ said British resident Bisher al-Rawi yesterday, just back in the UK after being held in Guantanamo Bay for almost five years.
Al-Rawi, an Iraqi national, was held at the US prison camp in Cuba on suspicion of links to terrorism after being picked up while on a trip to Gambia in 2002.
In a statement al-Rawi, a businessman from south-west London, said: ‘I am delighted to be back home in England, with my family.
However he added: ‘As happy as I am to be home though, leaving my best friend Jamil al-Banna behind in Guantanamo Bay makes my freedom bittersweet.
‘Jamil was arrested with me in the Gambia on exactly the same unfounded allegations, yet he is still a prisoner.
‘I also feel great sorrow for the other nine British residents who remain prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
‘The extreme isolation they are going through is one of the most profoundly difficult things to endure. I know that all too well.’
Jamil Al-Banna is a Jordanian refugee who had been living in north-west London.
Al-Rawi also paid tribute to all those who campaigned for his release.
The sister of Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes from Brighton, Amani Deghayes told News Line yesterday that al-Rawi’s return to the UK is ‘great news’.
She continued: ‘It gives us a bit of hope that hopefully the government is going to do the same for the others.
‘The timescale of a year to bring Bisher back is shocking. But it shows that the government can intervene on behalf of a British resident.
‘The argument that it is too much of strain on the diplomatic and security resources is complete rubbish.
‘Obviously, they have intervened on behalf of British resident Bisher so they can do so for the others if they wish to, including my brother.
‘I say all best wishes for Bisher. I hope there is going to be some kind of support for him.
‘Any other person who has been through a lot less normally gets counselling.
‘It’s shocking that Bisher may be left to get over things on his own.’
After long resisting, last Thursday, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said it had been agreed with the US authorities that he would be returned to the UK.
UK officials only took up al-Rawi’s case after it was disclosed he had previously co-operated with MI5.
An Amnesty International spokeswoman said yesterday: ‘But for the UK’s shadowy role in Mr Al-Rawi and his friend Jamil el-Banna’s arrest in Gambia, and eventual rendition to Guantanamo, these men would not have languished in illegal detention for five years.’
She added: ‘In the past the government has shamefully tried to wash its hands of UK residents at Guantanamo – with Bisher’s belated release, this must now end.
‘The sooner that Guantanamo Bay is closed in its entirety, the better.’