Forgotten Man: Two Years Abandoned in Guantanamo
week is the second anniversary of the arrest of local man Bisher Al Rawi. Will
anyone help him now?
first time MP Ed Davey heard of Mr Bisher Al Rawi was when his brother-in-law
walked into his office. A local businessman, Bisher had been arrested while
travelling abroad. “It seemed”, says Ed Davey, “that some sort of mistake had
been made”; he felt that the matter would soon be cleared up and Bisher would
be back home in London with the rest of his family. The source of Bisher’s
problems seemed to be a battery charger that he had taken with him to
compensate for the dodgy African power supply. The UK police had apparently
mistaken the battery charger for something more sinister and questioned him
about it before he took his plane. Fortunately Bisher had bought the battery
charger from Argos, and was able to show the police a picture of it in their
catalogue. To his relief Bisher was free to go, and carried on with his
business trip, thinking that this would be the last of his troubles.
he got to the Gambia, Bisher and was arrested and then handed over to the US
Intelligence Services. They questioned him for 27 days using “stress and
duress” techniques. The interrogators told him he would be handed back to the
Gambian police who would rape him if he did not co-operate. He was given no access
to a lawyer. When he asked to speak to the British Consulate the Americans
laughed; “Who do you think told us to arrest you?” After two months of
interrogation, without access to a lawyer and without any help from the UK
government, Bisher was bundled out of the Gambia into the US airbase in Bagram,
back in the UK,
MP Ed Davey, was trying to find a solution for Bisher’s worried family. He
wrote a series of letters to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Jack
Straw, then to anyone he could think of.
The silence, he says, was “eerie”. As an MP Ed was used to receiving at
least a reply to his letters, but this time there was nothing. It was as if
Bisher did not exist. Then finally the Bisher family received some news;
secretly, Bisher had been transferred to Guantanamo
people are currently held in Guantanamo Bay.
According to Tim Otty of the English Bar’s Human Rights Committee, the camps in
are a deliberate attempt by the US
government to create “a legal black hole”. A place in which even torture and
summary execution would not fall within the jurisdiction of the civil courts.
The evidence for torture using “stress and duress” at Guantanamo
is increasingly well documented. Techniques approved include subjection of
prisoners to extremes of cold, heat and light, shackling them in “stress
positions”, blasting them with loud music, stripping, and threatening them with
attack dogs. Those now emerging from American custody in Abu Graib, Bagram, and
tell stories of additional punishments. The testimonies are remarkably similar.
Many people recount how pepper spray was used; they were chained in a “hog tie”
position for long periods; their hair and beards were shaved; they were
deprived of sleep; attempts were made to get them to sign pre-drafted
‘confessions’. The torture happening in Guantanamo
represents, says Tim Otty “truly unprecedented conduct on the part of a
Al Rawi came to Britain
as a boy nearly twenty years ago. His family were fleeing Saddam Hussain who
had arrested and tortured his father. The Al Rawi family all became British
nationals except for their youngest son; Bisher. He, it was hoped, would one
day return to Iraq
and reclaim the house that the family had once owned there. At the time it was
difficult to hold property in Iraq
without Iraqi citizenship. Bisher was sent to Millfield, a private school,
where he developed his talent for mathematics and developed a passion for
adventure; climbing and deep sea diving. Gareth Pierce, Bisher’s lawyer, says
he is; “a gentle man, a thoughtful man” with a remarkable sense of humour in
the face of attempts to break his spirit.
is now exactly two years since Bisher’s arrest. He appears to have been
abandoned by the British government. “Although he has lived a law abiding quiet
life in the UK
for nearly twenty years and has paid his taxes to the British government. The UK
authorities have washed their hands of Bisher Al Rawi”, says Ed Davey. “I
strongly suspect that he is totally innocent and that this is a random arrest
and detention”. A meeting between the family, the MP and Jack Straw has done
nothing but confirm the unwillingness of the British government to help him.
"Mr al-Rawi is not a British citizen” writes the Secretary of State “and I
do not consider it would be appropriate to make representations either formally
or informally to the US”.
Worryingly for Bisher’s family Mr Straw has informed them that Bisher has been
stripped of his residency rights in the UK. When the family met Mr Straw, they made clear
that returning to Iraq is likely to place his life in serious jeopardy. Their
pleas, just like Ed Davey’s have met “a brick wall”.
Wickstead: 9th Nov 2004