How Guantanamo brothers 'became victims of MI5 plot'
- How Guantanamo brothers 'became victims of MI5 plot'
By Robert Verkaik
Published: 29 March 2006
One of four British citizens and residents seized by
the Americans in Africa before two of them were flown
to Guantanamo Bay has told The Independent that they
were victims of an MI5 plot.
Wahab al-Rawi, whose brother Bisher has been held in
the US naval base in Cuba for three years, says that
US interrorgators told him the British were directly
responsible for his arrest and detention. The new
claims confirm previous allegations that Britain has
played a major role in the "extraordinary rendition"
of terror suspects by handing them over to the
Americans without legal authority.
In his first interview since his arrest in November
2002, Mr al-Rawi says soon after his detention he
asked to see someone from the British High Commission
in Gambia but was told by the Americans: "Who do you
do think ordered your arrest in the first place? They
don't want to talk to you."
Mr al-Rawi claims that the only reason he and another
man were allowed to return to Britain after 28 days of
questioning by US intelligence officers was because
they could claim British citizenship. His brother,
Bisher, and Jamil el-Banna, both residents in Britain,
were flown to Bagram air base in Afghanistan before
being transferred to Guantanamo.
Intelligence reports made by MI5 which have been
submitted to the all-party group on extraordinary
rendition support Mr al-Rawi's testimony and show the
weakness of the case against the four men.
Part of this evidence, which was passed on to the
Americans, includes allegations that Bisher al-Rawi
had an interest in "extreme sports" while Wahab was
described as playing a lead role in setting up a
peanut-processing factory in the Gambia. MI5
"intelligence" on the men also revealed that they
carried copies of the Koran and had had an electronic
device which turned out to be an ordinary battery
Bisher al-Rawi, 38, and Wahab, 40, came to this
country in the early 1980s after their father fell
under the suspicion of Saddam Hussein. They lived in
Cambridge where they took their O-levels before
continuing their schooling at Millfield School,
Somerset, and Concord College, Shropshire.
They later attended separate universities. Wahab read
mechanical engineering at Salford and Bisher read
material engineering at University College London. In
1992 Wahab took British nationality while his brother
decided to retain his Iraqi citizenship as he did not
want to damage his ties with his home country.
It was Wahab's business interests that brought the two
brothers to Gambia in November 2002. "I had this
business idea for a mobile peanut-oil processing
factory," he told The Independent. "I had done the
feasibility study, it was all ready to go. I had my
team and we brought Bisher in on the deal towards the
From the start there were ominous signs that the trip
was not going to be straightforward. On the day of his
departure flight, Wahab was detained at City Airport
in east London by two men who described themselves as
airport security officers but whom Wahab suspected of
being MI5 officers.
The men wanted to find out about an alleged terror
suspect called Abu Qatada whom Wahab had known for
many years and had met four days before his flight. Mr
Qatada is now imprisoned in Britain as a terror
suspect and was once called Osama bin Laden's
spiritual representative in Europe. The brothers had
come to rely on him as an authority on Islamic law and
that was why Wahab had gone to see him. "I needed to
know whether, under Islamic law, it was allowed for
partners in a firm to be paid wages - he told me it
wasn't and so I thanked him and left."
Four days after Wahab had arrived in Gambia he went to
Banjul airport to meet his brother, Mr el-Banna and
Abdullah el-Ganudi, a British citizen.
Three days earlier, the three men had been arrested at
Gatwick airport when they first tried to fly out to
Gambia. They were taken to Paddington Green police
station in west London on suspicion of carrying an
explosive device which turned out to be the harmless
battery charger. It was the intelligence obtained from
these interviews and searches that was passed on to
Gambian and US authorities.
As Wahab approached his brother at Banjul airport he
became aware of a problem with immigration. Gambian
officials had confiscated their passports and they
were being taken to an interview room.
"They began by saying there was an irregularity with
their visas. But it became clear it was more than that
because they took us to the headquarters of the
Gambian National Intelligence Agency in Banjul. We
were questioned by Gambians for a few hours before
being moved to another room where two US officers took
over," says Wahab. "I'm afraid I lost my temper and
demanded to see the British High Commissioner and my
lawyer. They said it was much too late for that."
For the next three to four days the four men were
moved around the building from room to room,
alternately questioned by Americans and Gambians.
Says Wahab: "I agreed to answer the Gambian questions
but refused to answer any of the Americans'. I was
scared but didn't know why I should co-operate."
Four days after Wahab had met Bisher at the airport
they were taken from the NIA headquarters to a secret
location in the Banjul suburbs. It was here that
Bisher begged his brother to co-operate with the
Americans because "we have nothing to hide."
"We were all in the house," Wahab said, "and during a
break from interrogations Bisher told me to stop being
difficult and answer the questions so we could all be
sent back home. So I did. I agreed to tell them all
about the business we were planning and why we were in
Mr el-Janudi and Wahab were separated from the other
two and taken back to interrogation suites in the NIA
building where the Americans began repeating the
"After I had answered their questions about the trip
they started accusing me of coming to Gambia to start
a training camp for a terrorist campaign against
American targets. It was at this point that I withdrew
my co-operation because the questioning was getting
ridiculous. Once again I demanded to see someone from
the High Commission. This was when they said: 'Who do
you do think ordered your arrest in the first place?
They don't want to talk to you.' Now it was clear we
had been set up and betrayed by the country we had
adopted as our own."
Guantánamo's day of reckoning in supreme court
· Case pits presidential powers against law of war
· Detainee argues tribunals are unconstitutional
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Wednesday March 29, 2006
The US supreme court was urged yesterday to rein in
President George Bush's use of his powers as a wartime
president, challenging his order to dispatch al-Qaida
suspects to trial before military tribunals.
In arguments that could redefine the balance between
presidential power and the laws of war, lawyers for
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, an inmate at Guantánamo, told the
court that Mr Bush had violated basic military
protections with his November 2001 executive order
setting up the tribunals.
Mr Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of driving a pick-up truck
for Osama bin Laden, was captured in Afghanistan in
November 2001 and charged with war crimes. The Bush
administration claims he conspired with the al-Qaida
leader to carry out attacks in the US. He says he was
merely working to support his family, and needed the
The case challenges the Bush administration's
justification for holding people without recourse to
US courts or the Geneva convention.
Terror suspects brought before the tribunals do not
have the right to an attorney of their choice or to
see the evidence against them. Even if they are
acquitted and freed, the verdict can be reversed by
the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr Hamdan's lawyers contended yesterday that that
makes the tribunals unconstitutional because they
allow the president to define the crime, and select
the prosecutor and judges who act as jury.
"This is a military commission that is literally
unburdened by the laws, constitution and treaties of
the United States," one lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the
To date, none of the 500 or so detainees at Guantánamo
have appeared before a military tribunal, although 10
have been consigned for trial.
Under questioning from justices Antonin Scalia and
Samuel Alito, Mr Katyal rejected the administration's
argument that Mr Hamdan should wait until after his
appearance before a tribunal to challenge the
president's definition of the laws of war. "The
government has had four years to get their charges
together on Mr Hamdan," he said.
"We are talking about just a set of core ideas that
every country around the world is supposed to dispense
when they create wartime trials, and even that minimum
standard the government doesn't want to apply here."
Lawyers for the Bush administration say the president
derives his authority for the executive order from his
powers as commander in chief. In addition, they note
that Congress recently enacted legislation barring
Guantánamo detainees from being heard in the US
The chief justice, John Roberts, has withdrawn from
the case because he ruled on Mr Hamdan while serving
on an appeals court. But Justice Scalia has resisted
demands to withdraw from civil rights organisations,
members of Congress, and a group of retired US
generals and admirals. He came under a barrage of
criticism after comments at an appearance at the
University of Freiburg in Switzerland this month were
reported by Newsweek magazine.
In his discussions, Justice Scalia reportedly said
terror suspects did not deserve the right to a trial,
adding that he had a son who had served in the US
military in Iraq: "I had a son on that battlefield and
they were shooting at my son, and I'm not about to
give this man who was captured in a war a full jury
trial. I mean it's crazy."
Lawyers for the detainees had been looking forward to
yesterday's proceedings as a chance to begin pulling
down the legal framework claimed by the Bush
administration in its conduct of the "war on terror".
The case has attracted several prominent supporters,
including the former secretary of state, Madeleine
Albright. In a speech on Monday, a military lawyer for
Mr Hamdan, Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift,
said all he wanted was a full trial. "When our
citizens are abroad and these things are done, how
will we say it was wrong?" he said.
But it is not entirely clear that the supreme court
will emerge with a firm directive when it hands down
its decision later this year. The withdrawal of Chief
Justice Roberts brings the membership of the court
down to eight, deepening the potential for a deadlock.
More importantly, the detainees may have been
shortcircuited by a law passed by Congress last
December which barred the use of torture, but then
added a rider denying Guantánamo detainees the right
to have their cases heard in US federal courts.
The establishment of military trials at Guantánamo Bay
defines the Bush administration's view of the sweeping
powers of a US president in wartime. In November 2001,
President Bush signed an order setting up military
commissions to try suspected members of al-Qaida,
saying the terror suspects were not entitled to Geneva
He said they were not part of a regular army nor US
citizens entitled to a US court hearing. No trial has
taken place under the commissions, which bear no
relation to courts martial. Suspects are not
guaranteed a lawyer and do not see all the evidence.
Any commission decision can be overturned by defence
secretary, Donald Rumsfeld
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