George W Bush has sought to portray the US-led ‘war on terror’ as a struggle for democratic values, yet for the past four years the US has held 480 men in Guantánamo Bay without trial. Only 10 have even been charged with a crime. Nineteen-year-old Mohammed El Gharani, seized at age 14 from a Karachi mosque, is not one of those 10. Kept in solitary confinement, he languishes in jail with no hope of trial and has attempted suicide twice this year.
UK-based charity Reprieve learned of El Gharani’s suicide attempts in late March, after another prisoner passed word to its legal director Clive Stafford Smith. Stafford Smith in turn pushed the information through the military censors who control the release of all information from the camp, who finally permitted it to be made public in May.
Though the US released the UK’s four remaining citizens in January, many of the prisoners are UK residents whose immediate families are citizens, yet the UK Government refuses to represent them.
Reprieve lawyer Zachary Katznelson points out that Ahmed Errachidi, another UK resident held in Guantánamo accused of attending an Al Qaeda training camp in July 2001, was, in fact, working as a chef at London’s Westbury Mayfair Hotel and Café Loco bar at the time.
“It’s clear the US military has done no investigation at all,” Katznelson adds. “Reprieve checked the employment records at both establishments, which confirm that Errachidi was working on the days in question.”
In a message welcomed by campaigners, Bush last month (9 June) called for the Guantánamo inmates to be tried, a message he has repeated since. The US president has also said he wants the camp to be shut down.
“It’s time for actions to back up those words,” Katznelson concludes. “Many of our clients are extremely depressed and have expressed suicidal thoughts; and most have been there for more than four years. They should be put on trial or released immediately.”
Three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, hanged themselves at the camp last month. Speaking to the BBC, Colleen Graffy, US deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, described the deaths as a “good PR move”.
For more information or to take action, see www.repreive.org.uk or contact Clementine Harrison at Reprieve (020 7353 4640; Clemmie@reprieve.org.uk).