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Prisoners freed a year ago struggle to rebuild their lives

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent
Independent
12 January 2005

It has been almost a year since five other Britons detained in Guantanamo Bay won their release. But there is little sign that any of them have been able to rebuild their lives.

Shafiq Rasul, 27, Asif Iqbal, 22 and Ruhul Ahmed, 22, all from Tipton, West Midlands; Jamal al-Harith, 37, from Manchester, and Tarek Dergoul, 26, from London, have all returned to their communities. But they remain haunted by their experiences and, 10 months on, still require counselling to help come to terms with what lawyers agree was exposure to prolonged "inhumane and degrading treatment". Under surveillance from the security services and subject to ever-present media attention, they struggle to put their experiences behind them.

Mr Dergoul lost an arm and suffers serious mental illness.

The Tipton three, who spent the first few weeks of their new-found freedom in safe houses on the south coast, are now reunited with their families. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the British Muslim Parliament, who is in regular contact with the Tipton men, said: "Their lives are shattered and they are still traumatised after what happened to them. You simply have to ask yourself how you would cope if you were put in their position."

In their compensation claim against the US government, four of the former detainees complain they were "repeatedly struck with rifle buts, punched, kicked and slapped. They were short-shackled in painful stress positions for may hours ….. causing deep flesh wounds and permanent scarring."

The lawsuit adds: "The plaintiffs were also threatened with unmuzzled dogs, forced to strip naked, subjected to repeated forced body-cavity searches, intentionally subjected to extremes of heat and cold for the purpose of causing suffering …."

They have also had to contend with unsubstantiated accusations that, since their release, they have been in trouble.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the most difficult test facing the former Camp X-Ray inmates is coming to terms with the many authority figures that they encounter in their post-Guantanamo lives.

Robert Lizar, the lawyer who is representing Mr Harith, the 37-year-old father-of-three released on 9 March 2004, says that his client "has found it extremely hard to pick up the pieces of his life". He adds: "He has spent years in prison under conditions which at times have amounted to torture and have often been degrading and inhumane treatment. For all this time his life was controlled by someone else."

Mr Harith was the first to be released without charge from Paddington Green police station after he was flown back to Britain last year. He has still not found full-time paid employment.

In December he told a committee of the Council of Europe that he was concerned about the long-term psychological effects of his forced detention. "I was never given any reason or explanation for my detention or any apology about any of the things that were done to me," he told the committee. "I have been left with intermittent significant pain in my knees which I believe arises from being repeatedly forced on to my knees and pressed downwards by guards during various other processes during my detention. These events happened almost every day. I am also suffering continuing pain in my right elbow. I am also concerned about the long-term psychological effects."

 

 

 

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