UK Guantánamo four to be released

· Foreign Office took up cases after policy change
· Amnesty questions why one man must stay in jail

Ed Pilkington in New York, Alexandra Topping
The Guardian

Four British residents held without charge at the American detention camp for suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are to be released, reducing the UK involvement with the camp to just one inmate.The four men have all lived in Britain after being granted refugee status or temporary immigration status. They have struggled to have their cases heard because until recently Britain refused to represent them on the grounds that they were not UK citizens.

Three of the men – Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdenour Samuer – are to be allowed to return to the UK by Christmas. A fourth, Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer, will be sent back to his home country, Saudi Arabia.

That leaves one UK resident, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi from Ethiopia, still in Guantánamo. The Pentagon claims he is particularly dangerous and it is determined that he stays to face one of the military commissions established to prosecute prisoners at the camp.

News of the imminent release of the four men came three months after the UK reversed its previous policy and decided to represent the men.

Until August the official Foreign Office position was that the prisoners were not entitled to representation because they were not British nationals.

But David Miliband, the foreign secretary, responded to criticism of the government’s position and agreed to take up their cases. He wrote to his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, requesting their release.

The Foreign Office would not confirm reports last night that the men would be released and said discussions were ongoing. A spokesman said: “We have held detailed discussions with the Americans…

“We considered the circumstances of each case with the US and we are in contact with the families and the legal representatives of the five.

“Whilst the discussions are ongoing we are not going to make further comment.”

Officials acknowledge that the fact Habashi remains in Guantánamo means the detention without charge of inmates at the camp will continue to be a point of tension between London and Washington.

Amnesty International said it would seek to establish why Shaker Aamer is to go to Saudi Arabia, Habashi would remain in detention and another former UK resident, Ahmed Belbacha, has not been mentioned in the reports.

Neil Durkin, Amnesty’s UK spokesman said: “We’ve always said that Guantánamo is a travesty of justice and that detainees should either be given proper trials or released to safe countries.”

Banna has been the subject of intense legal and political campaigning in recent months. His Brent East MP, Sarah Teather, in February called on the US authorities either to charge him or send him home.

Teather said she hoped the men could be back before Christmas. “Jamil has been held without any charges being brought against him for five years, he was cleared for release in March this year,” she said. “The US has accepted that he is not a threat and he belongs at home with his family.

“Since the government has taken up the cause it has done everything in its power to secure his release but it is a disgrace that it took them four and a half years to take up the cause.”

A Jordanian, Banna was on a business trip to Gambia in November 2002 when he was picked up, handed over to the Americans and flown to Guantánamo.

The freed men

Jamil el-Banna

Banna, 45, a father of five from London, was seized by the CIA in 2002, and flown to Guantánamo after MI5 wrongly told the US that his travelling companion was carrying bomb parts on a business trip to Gambia. MI5 had attempted to recruit him as an informer days earlier

Omar Deghayes

Born in Libya, Deghayes, 37, came to the UK as a child after his father was murdered. He studied law at Wolverhampton University and in Huddersfield. His family say he has condemned terrorism. He alleges he was by left blind in one eye after a US soldier poked his finger into it.

Abdenour Samuer

Samuer fled to the UK from Algeria and was granted asylum in 2000. He went to Afghanistan after 9/11. He says he was captured on the Pakistan border. He told US interrogators that in 2001 a man at Finsbury Park mosque gave him money to go to Afghanistan

Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer

Aamer, 38, is a Saudi national with a British wife and four British children living in Battersea, London. He was applying for British citizenship when he took his family to Kabul and was seized by troops fighting alongside US forces. He will return to his native Saudi Arabia.