One of the four men who returned to Britain yesterday after three years in Guantánamo Bay allegedly suffered a series of mental breakdowns and was repeatedly injected with an unknown substance by his US captors.
A lawyer for Feroz Abbasi made the allegations as he and three other Muslim men arrived in Britain aboard an RAF plane, only to be arrested by anti-terrorism officers who took them to a top security police station for questioning.
Mr Abbasi is alleged to have been kept in isolation for 18 months and was left so traumatized that he suffered hallucinations and panic attacks.
Yesterday the four Britons touched down on British soil at 5.02pm, after a battle by their families to secure their release. They had been picked up from Guantánamo Bay, land controlled by the US on Cuba's south-east tip, and flown directly to RAF Northolt, London.
Mr Abbasi, 24, is the only one allegedly detained on the battlefield, in Afghanistan in December 2001. Richard Belmar, 25, and Moazzam Begg, 37, reportedly were arrested in Pakistan, while Martin Mubanga, 32, was detained in Zambia.
The fresh allegations of abuse of British detainees and their suffering came from Gitanjali Gutierrez, the US lawyer for Mr Abbasi. Ms Gutierrez saw Mr Abbasi, who comes from Croydon, south London, in Guantánamo last week where he alleged:
- He was kept in isolation for 18 months in a windowless cell
He could not go outside to exercise
Guards were removed to deny him any human contact and he was monitored by a remote camera.
- He was repeatedly injected with an unknown substance that triggered psychosis
- He feared he would be beaten if he refused to comply with his captors.
Ms Gutierrez, whose comments are subject to US military censorship, told the Guardian her client was showing clear signs of the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder and suffering from panic attacks. She said: "The time in isolation led to mental breakdowns, he was talking to himself, hallucinating, sitting in the corner.
"We talked about the difficulties of reintegrating into regular life after being subjected to the abuses and isolation he suffered. He had periods of psychosis that corresponded with the injections." Three British detainees released last year also said they had been given mystery injections.
After touching down on British soil the four Britons were arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, suspected of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner who made the decision to arrest, said: "The intelligence and the information was put to me over the weekend," he said. "I have no other option but to arrest them. If their answers are satisfactory, then they will be released as soon as we can arrange it."
Police said they would be medically examined before interrogation and that because of the "unique circumstances" a family member would be allowed to see them, probably today. Muslim groups and the men's families condemned the arrests.
Intelligence officials suggested yesterday there was no evidence to suggest any of the four presented a security threat. They expected all four to be released quickly, but insisted that the length of detention was up to the police.
Muslim leaders who attended a meeting with Britain's top anti-terrorism officer, assistant commissioner David Veness, claimed he said the men would only be charged if they admitted criminal acts.
The four have been questioned at Guantánamo Bay up to nine times by MI5 officers. Any intelligence relevant to the war on terror would have been acted on already by Britain or the US, anti terrorism officials suggest.
The four flew back to Britain on an RAF-C-17 military aircraft, accompanied by Scotland Yard anti-terrorist officers and two independent observers, one a Muslim. Police videoed the flight to guard against claims of ill treatment.
Up to 550 Muslim men remain in Guantánamo, including at least six British residents who the government has declined to represent.
The four Britons who returned yesterday are expected to receive treatment for the physical and mental effects of their ordeal from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. One of five Britons released from Guantánamo in March 2004 is still receiving treatment from the charity.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005