Ten-year-old Anas el-Banna will walk to the door of Number 10 Downing Street this week to ask for an answer to the question he has been trying to have answered for four years: Why can't my Dad come home?
His father, Jamil, is one of eight British residents languishing among the
almost 400 inmates at the American base at Guantanamo Bay, which opened five
years ago to the day this Thursday - the day of Anas's protest.
Former Guantanamo detainee Mourad Ben Chellali of France stands among Amnesty International activists during a demonstration held in front of the Statue of Liberty in Paris, Saturday Jan. 6, 2007. Amnesty International is asking for the closure of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay where nearly 400 prisoners are held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Mr Banna, was taken to Guantanamo Bay four years ago after being seized in
Gambia along with fellow detainee Bisher al-Rawi. He was accused of having a
suspicious device in his luggage. It turned out to be a battery charger. No
charges have been made.
He suffers from severe diabetes, but his lawyers say he has not been offered
medication and has been denied the food he needs. His eyesight is now
A year ago, his son wrote to Tony Blair for the second time to ask why the
Government was not helping him return home. The then six-year-old did not
even receive a reply. The second letter elicited a cursory note from the
Foreign Office. It stated that because Mr Banna is not a British citizen,
although his wife and children are, nothing could be done for him.
So on Thursday, carrying yet another letter, Anas and his mother Sabah will
return with campaigners and MPs to demand the closure of the camp and action
to free the British residents.
Their MP, the the Liberal Democrat frontbencher Sarah Teather, said the
Banna children, who are of Jordanian origin but have grown up in North
London, were devastated by their father's detention.
The Downing Street protest will come during a week of action to mark the
fifth anniversary of Guantanamo Bay. Since its inception, the camp has drawn
furious protests from across the globe. Last night, Ian McCartney, the
Foreign Office minister, faced anger on the floor of the House of Commons as
the MPs for Mr Banna and another detainee, Bisher al-Rawi, lambasted the
Today Ms Teather will present a petition to Parliament demanding his
release, while tomorrow, relatives and friends will hold a candlelit vigil
outside Downing Street.
Hundreds of protesters dressed in the notorious orange boiler suits that are
the uniform at Guantanamo, plan a separate protest outside the US Embassy.
Peace activist Cindy Sheehan is among a group of US activists that has
travelled to Cuba to protest outside the camp, on the Cuban side. With them
will be former inmate Asif Iqbal, one of the Tipton Three, who was released
without charge in March 2004.
Many of the British residents have families who are British citizens, and
had leave to remain in the UK, but the Government has refused to take
responsibility for them. Yesterday, Ed Davey, chief of staff to the Liberal
Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, used the Commons debate to attack
ministers for allowing British residents to "languish" in the camp.
He said: "The Government has been both hypocritical and morally
bankrupt. They have condemned Guantanamo Bay but have failed to take action
for the British residents." He said the US administration had offered
to send the men home, but the UK had refused to accept them. He added: "
The Prime Minister should stop talking about closing Guantanamo and start
doing something about it."
Human rights lawyer Zachary Katznelson, senior advocate at the charity
Reprieve, represents the eight men. He said several were held in solitary
confinement, some in cells that were lit 24 hours a day. He added: "If
they have committed any crime, of course they should be prosecuted and
punished. But I have not seen evidence that they have. If it's there, let's
The Foreign Office said it had agreed to make special representations on
behalf of Bisher al-Rawi, but insisted that the courts had found that the
Government had "no locus" to intervene of behalf of the other men.
On Thursday, Anas el-Banna will try, for the third time, to persuade them to
change their minds.
British residents at Guantanamo
* JAMIL EL-BANNA, Jordanian. Held in Guantanamo since March 2003
Arrested, with Bisher al-Rawi, in the Gambia, where they had gone to set up
a mobile peanut-processing plant. He was taken by the Americans to
Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay. He suffers from severe diabetes but
his lawyers say he has not been offered medication.
* BINYAM MOHAMED, Ethiopian. Held in Guantanamo since September 2004
Came to UK in 1996 seeking asylum and was granted indefinite leave to
remain. Travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 before fleeing to Pakistan. Charged
in relation to an alleged dirty bomb plot at the Guantanamo Bay military
tribunal. The tribunal was invalidated last year
* SHAKER AAMER, Saudi Arabian. Held in Guantanamo since February
Was applying for British nationality after settling in Battersea, south
London, with his wife and four children, all of whom are British citizens.
Seized in Pakistan in 2002. Has been kept in isolation since September 2005
and has been on hunger strike.
* BISHER AL-RAWI, Iraqi. Held in Guantanamo since March 2003
Fled Iraq for Britain with his family 20 years ago. Arrested in the Gambia
where he had travelled to help set up a peanut processing plant. Accused of
taking a weapon of mass destruction.
* OMAR DEGHAYES, Libyan. Held in Guantanamo since August 2002
Became a British citizen after fleeing to the UK with his family. He appears
on a "Chechnyan training video", which his lawyers insist is case
of mistaken identity.
* AHMED ERRACHIDI, Moroccan. Held in Guantanamo since May 2002
Worked as a cook in London for 18 years. Seized in Pakistan and accused of
attending a terrorist training camp in July 2001. His lawyers say he was
working in London at the time. He is in isolation.
* AHMED BELBACHA, Algerian. Held in Guantanamo since March 2002
Lived in Bournemouth, where he worked in the hotel trade. The 37-year-old
was refused refugee status in Britain, but granted indefinite leave to
remain. Arrested in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in 2001. Alleged to
have attended a training camp, which he denies.
* ABDELNOUR SAMEUR, Algerian. Held in Guantanamo since June 2002
The 33-year-old decorator, who settled in north London, was granted refugee
status in 2000. Went to Afghanistan in 2001 and was shot in Pakistan trying
to reach the Algerian embassy. He was arrested in hospital. Alleged to have
attended a training camp, which he denies
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited