Finally, after nearly three months of uncertainty, the Spanish government has dropped its request for the extradition of Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, two British residents freed from Guantánamo in December, who were served with the notice before they had even completed their journey home.
The very thought of extraditing these two men, who had suffered so much in US custody, was incomprehensible, not just because the timing of the request was so callous, but also because both men had been cleared by both the US and UK authorities.
Mr. El-Banna, a Jordanian, was seized with fellow British resident Bisher al-Rawi by US agents in the Gambia, where he had travelled to establish a mobile peanut-processing plant, in November 2002, and his case had caused embarrassment to the British government when it was revealed by his lawyers that British intelligence had been complicit in providing the false intelligence that led to his kidnapping, and Mr. Deghayes, who is married to an Afghan woman, and has a child that he barely knows, was seized in Pakistan and sold to US forces at a time when bounty payments for foreigners were widespread.
Baltasar Garzón, the prominent judge who agreed to shelve the case against the two men, explained that he was doing so because of medical reports filed by the men’s lawyers at their last hearing in February. Two doctors, Jonathan Fluxman and Helen Bamber, had examined the men earlier in the month and had concluded that they were suffering from severe medical conditions caused by torture at the hands of their US captors and the inhumane conditions in which they were kept for five years.
According to the Guardian, the doctors reported that Jamil El-Banna was severely depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that he was also suffering from “diabetes, hyper-tension, back pain and damage to the back of his left knee.” Mr. Deghayes was also diagnosed as suffering from PTSD and depression, and has “fractures in his nasal bone and right index finger.” In addition, he is blind in his right eye, as the result of an attack by guards at Guantánamo. It was also noted that both men presented “a high risk of suicide.”
In his report, Dr. Fluxman concluded that, “given all these factors, I don’t see how Mr. Deghayes would be able to give instructions to his lawyers, listen to evidence and give his own accurate testimony.” In Mr.El-Banna’s case, the doctors concluded that his already fragile mental health could deteriorate severely were he to be separated once more from his wife and children.
Announcing the shelving of the charges, Judge Garzón refused to concede that the initial claims that the men had connections with terrorism were misguided, but acknowledged that they were so damaged by their experiences that their very recovery was “uncertain,” and that as a result they were incapable of defending themselves in any potential trial.
Judge Garzón specifically blamed Mr. El-Banna’s medical condition on the “five years [he spent] in secret prisons in Gambia and Afghanistan and latterly in Guantánamo … in inhumane conditions.” He added that the torture he suffered in these prisons resulted in the “progressive deterioration of his mental condition.” In Omar Deghayes’ case, he noted that he was tortured and badly treated in prisons in Islamabad, Bagram and Guantánamo, and he concluded that the men’s treatment had “caused a serious deterioration in the mental state of the accused,” to such an extent that “it is impossible, even inhuman, to pursue the European arrest warrants.”
Speaking from his home in Brighton, Mr Deghayes said, “It’s good — it’s happy news. I always knew they would realise their mistake and give up the case.” He added that he hoped that the curfews imposed on Mr El-Banna and himself would now be lifted. “I still have problems with immigration as the authorities have taken away my resident status, but this is a relief, of course,” he insisted, and then pointed out that one of his main concerns was not his own status, but that of the 40 to 50 detainees still in Guantánamo who, he said, were in “immediate danger” of deportation to their home countries, where they face the risk of torture.
This, it should be noted, is a fate that Mr. Deghayes was himself threatened with, even though he and his family had fled Libya for Britain in the 1980s, after his father, a lawyer and trade union activist, had been murdered by representatives of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.
Zachary Katznelson, Senior Counsel for Reprieve, the human rights charity which has represented the men, was also overjoyed to hear the news. “We are thrilled to hear that Judge Garzón has done the right thing and dropped his request for the extradition of Jamil and Omar,” he said. “These men suffered horrors for years at the hands of the United States. They never had a trial of any type, yet they served more than five years in a brutal prison. It is now time to let them rebuild their lives here in the UK — it’s where their families are and it’s where they call home.”
ANDY WORTHINGTON is a British historian, and the author of ‘The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison’ (published by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org