/ 27 August 2004

Guantanamo prisoners to get legal visit

The United States is to allow three British citizens and two British residents their first access to a lawyer since being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay more than two years ago.

The granting of a legal visit next Monday is being hailed as a key stage in trying to get the Britons freed from Guantanamo, where they have been held as suspected terrorists without charge or trial.

The US granted the visits after the Supreme Court ruled the base in occupied Cuba was covered by US law, despite the Bush administration claiming it was not.

Reports continue to suggest that Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi have been suffering mental health problems while imprisoned.

Both have been held in isolation for up to a year, with Begg having been detained in a windowless room. He is also believed to be denied human contact after he started talking to his guards, and is monitored by a remote-controlled camera.

Two US lawyers representing the Britons are scheduled to arrive in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday.

As well as Begg and Abbasi, they are expected to see Martin Mubanga, and two Londoners whom the British Foreign Office refuses to represent.

They are Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national from Kingston-upon-Thames where he has lived for 20 years, who has been interrogated more than 50 times according to testimony from released British detainees.

A lawyer will also see Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian refugee, who is alleged to have been sexually humiliated while detained and to also be suffering mental health problems, according to three released British detainees.

The lawyer Gitanjali Gutierrez, who will see Begg and Abbasi over four days, said the visit would help prepare their habeas corpus petitions in the US courts, which she hopes will see them freed.

Gutierrez said the Pentagon was trying to apply conditions on the visit that she regards as unacceptable. These include reading the notes made by the lawyers of their meetings with the Britons and monitoring any mail between the two.

Gutierrez said negotiations are continuing for the Pentagon to drop these conditions. It has already agreed that the meetings will not be monitored.

n Meanwhile, reports Julian Borger, Osama bin Laden’s Yemeni driver became the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner on Tuesday to stand before a US military commission to face war crimes charges, in proceedings that have been denounced as unfair by human rights groups and American military lawyers.

Defence lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan and three other prisoners facing preliminary hearings this week are expected to challenge the legality of the proceedings, and the nature of interrogations under which the defendants made statements.

The other three prisoners are David Hicks, a former Australian kangaroo hunter turned Islamic jihadist, will face war crimes and attempted murder charges tomorrow, followed by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Yemeni poet, and a Sudanese accountant, Ibrahim al-Qosi. — Â