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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

8 Jan 2007 : Column 112

Question agreed to.


Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): If the House is content, I will put motions 4 to 6 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

National Health Service

Employment Tribunals

Section 5 of the European Communities (amendment) Act 1993

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

8 Jan 2007 : Column 113

EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child

Question agreed to.


Alzheimer’s Disease

9.22 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): There was an impressive march through York before Christmas by members and supporters of the Alzheimer’s Society at which I was presented with a petition signed by 635 people from York and neighbouring towns and villages that I, in turn, am pleased to present to the House.

The petition states:

The petition is signed by Gillian Margaret Myers, the branch manager of Selby and York Alzheimer’s Society, of 7 Lakeside court, York, on behalf of all those who signed the petition.

To lie upon the Table.

Oversteads House

9.24 pm

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am presenting a petition on behalf of residents of Ushaw Moor and surrounding villages in Durham who are campaigning to keep Oversteads house open and to have it properly refurbished and let. Residents are worried that it is included in the local development framework by Durham city council. They would like it removed from redevelopment plans and kept open as a sheltered and supported housing complex.

The petition states:

The petition has been signed by 850-plus residents, including Mrs. Elizabeth Hall of 23 Whitehouse court.

To lie upon the Table.

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Bisher al-Rawi

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Liz Blackman.]

9.25 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): My constituent, Bisher al-Rawi, lives in New Malden, Surrey, but he is currently in camp 5, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has been imprisoned there by the Americans for over four years, without charge or trial, and has been subjected to continual degradation and torture. That would all be bad enough, but there is undeniable evidence—we have the telegrams—that MI5, and therefore the UK Government, was complicit in Bisher’s illegal arrest, complicit in his rendition, and complicit in his long, illegal detention. As MI5 must have known about the psychological torture techniques of the United States, I believe that the UK has been complicit in his torture, too.

Whatever Bisher may or may not have done—I believe that he is innocent—he has suffered a huge injustice, and has been denied basic human and legal rights. His likely innocence only makes that injustice even more intolerable. Ministers have been aware of Bisher’s case all along. I first contacted the Foreign Office in late 2002, when Bisher’s brother-in-law came to see me, and when Bisher was still in the Gambia. There have been many letters and many meetings with Ministers since, yet throughout the UK Government have failed to admit their complicity and have denied any moral responsibility for Bisher. Instead, Ministers have chosen to hide behind the fact that Bisher is “only” a British resident, having come to the UK, aged 16, 23 years ago, fleeing with his family from Saddam Hussein.

Although his family became British citizens, Bisher and his family decided that he would retain Iraqi citizenship so that his family might one day be able to reclaim their Iraqi property. As a result, the British Government have always refused to make formal representations for him—until last March. Faced with a court hearing in which it would emerge that Bisher had worked for MI5, the Government did a volte-face and agreed to represent him.

However, the problem is that it does not seem as if the Government are trying that hard for Bisher, or if they are, that they are any good at making representations to the United States—our closest ally—as Bisher remains in Guantanamo. Indeed, if anything, his situation is worse. Immediately after the Government agreed to ask for Bisher’s return, he was thrown into the top-security isolation camp 5 for refusing to answer questions that he has been asked hundreds of times before. All three of his attorneys, who have seen Bisher in the past few months, agree that his mental health is deteriorating fast.

I will tell Bisher’s story tonight, but I start with three questions. First, why have the Government failed to secure Bisher’s release, after promising that they would do so back in March? Secondly, how are the current discussions with the United States on Bisher’s release proceeding, and is there a timetable for his release? Thirdly, will the Foreign Office now request that the Prime Minister himself urgently raises Bisher’s case
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with the US president, direct, to help to secure Bisher’s immediate release and return to the United Kingdom?

I shall rewind, and give Bisher’s full story but, first, I wish to pay tribute to his family, who have shown a great deal of courage during this difficult period. I pay tribute to his lawyers, both American and British, who have worked with huge determination and intelligence to try to secure Bisher’s release. I pay tribute to the late Mark Jennings, who worked in my office before leaving to work tirelessly for Bisher’s release. Bisher al-Rawi was born in 1967 to a well-to-do Iraqi family. His great-grandfather, a Prime Minister of Jordan in the 1920s, helped to write the country’s constitution and was a fervent backer of democracy. His late father, Dr. al-Rawi, a successful Iraqi businessman, was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein for 18 months. He was tortured during that period but, ironically, given Bisher’s circumstances, a court in Saddam’s regime ordered his release, and the family fled to the United Kingdom. In the UK, Bisher had a privileged and very English upbringing, He was privately educated in Cambridge before being sent to Millfield public school. He went on to read material engineering at University college London. He was loved by all his family and friends, and he was exceedingly popular.

How did Bisher come to the notice of the authorities? He got to know the radical Islamic cleric, Abu Qatada, who is alleged to have links with al-Qaeda. Indeed, Abu Qatada has been variously described as a truly dangerous individual and a key figure in al-Qaeda-related terror activities, although he denies such allegations. Deportation proceedings against him are pending, but I can state categorically that he has never been charged with any wrongdoing. It appears that my constituent has been illegally imprisoned for four years solely on the basis that he was an associate of Abu Qatada. I should therefore like to ask the Minister for Trade why the authorities have never charged Abu Qatada with any terrorist activity. Is Bisher guilty by association with someone who has never been charged with any crime? Will the Minister confirm that Bisher helped MI5 by serving as a translator and carrying messages between it and Abu Qatada? In an astonishing statement in 2005 to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, in Guantanamo, Bisher recounted how he worked with MI5. He claimed to have worked with a number of agents, whom he names as Alex, Matt and Martin. He described a large number of meetings and telephone calls, in which he used a mobile phone provided by MI5, that took place over a period of months.

MI5 lost track of Abu Qatada, and it was Bisher who told it that he knew where he was before acting as a go-between. In his statement to Clive Stafford Smith, Bisher explained how difficult that period was, as he was criticised by both MI5 and Abu Qatada. Bisher requested an MI5 lawyer, as he was worried that he would be incriminated by MI5. An MI5 lawyer using the name Simon assured Bisher that he did not run any risk, and that MI5 would assist him if he got into trouble as a result of his association with Abu Qatada—some promise from MI5. Around July 2002, Bisher said that MI5 broke off the relationship, and he did not hear anything more from it until he met its agents again in Guantanamo.

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That leads me to the next stage of the story—Bisher’s arrest in Gambia. In the second half of 2002, Bisher became involved with a business idea that his brother, Wahab, put together for a mobile peanut processing plant in Gambia, together with a team of friends, including a British citizen, Abdullah El-Janoudi, and Jamil Al-Banna, who is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). She is in the Chamber, and she has campaigned hard, both for her constituent and, with me, against the injustices of Guantanamo. Because of proceedings that are under way, she is unable to intervene in our debate. On 1 November, Bisher and Jamil went to Gatwick airport to fly to Gambia to join Wahab. They were detained at Gatwick, and were held in Paddington Green police station on the grounds that a supposedly suspicious electronic device had been found in Bisher’s luggage. Their homes and computers were searched, but nothing was found. Eventually, they were released, and the police confirmed that the suspicious device was a battery charger available at outlets of Argos.

However, during this period MI5 was contacting the US authorities, telling them that Bisher and Jamil were intending to travel to the Gambia, and that Bisher was an “Islamic extremist” who had been found with a “suspicious device”—the battery charger. Months later, when Bisher was undergoing his combatant status review tribunal in Guantanamo, the Americans used allegations about the “suspicious device” as evidence that he was an enemy combatant.

On 8 November 2002, Bisher and Jamil once again went to Gatwick, having been told by MI5 that there was now no problem with their trip. At the same time, MI5 was informing CIA agents in the Gambia of their names and flight details, so they were arrested at the airport, questioned by the Gambians and handed over to the CIA. After four weeks of questioning, the two British citizens, Wahab and Abdullah El-Janoudi, were sent back to the UK. Bisher and Jamil, however, were detained and then rendered to Afghanistan by the CIA on 8 December 2002.

After a truly dreadful period in the so-called dark prison, the two men were transferred to Bagram airfield near Kabul, and after another two months of questioning and abuse, to Guantanamo. I give only a brief account of this awful time to prove one key point: that British secret services were utterly complicit in the arrest and rendition of Bisher and Jamil, as several independent inquiries into rendition have found, including one conducted by the European Parliament.

Let me ask the Minister the following questions. Why was Bisher not detained permanently in London prior to travelling to the Gambia, if the UK Government suspected him of being a terrorist? Will the Foreign Office confirm the authenticity of the telegrams produced during the judicial proceedings, which were supposedly sent by MI5 to the American authorities in the Gambia in November 2002? When did the British Government become aware that Bisher had been rendered to Kabul, Afghanistan, and what, if any, action was taken?

Given the tortures suffered during this period, let me ask two further questions. Did the British Government or their secret services know that Bisher and Jamil had been delivered to the Americans to be tortured? On the
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Americans and torture more generally, are the British Government aware that when the US signed the UN convention against torture in 1994, it did so with four carefully detailed diplomatic “reservations” focusing on one word in the convention’s 26 printed pages? That word was “mental”. Are the UK Government aware, therefore, that the US retains, in its eyes, the legal power to commit psychological torture?

Since that initial period in the Gambia and Afghanistan, Bisher has been a long time in Guantanamo. He has frequently endured periods of abuse—lights on 24 hours a day to make it difficult to sleep. On one occasion he used the 15 sheets of toilet paper that detainees are given each day to cover his eyes. They were taken away from him for misuse. He suffered abuse with artificial temperature extremes. One week the air conditioning is shut off to expose detainees to heat that rises to 95°; the next week the air conditioning is blasted at maximum to leave the detainees shivering. On one occasion, Bisher used his prayer rug to cover himself because he was so cold. It was taken away, again for misuse.

UK officials know about the abuse because Bisher’s lawyers have given them a deposition. Can the Minister tell me whether the British Government have taken any action to persuade the Americans to desist from the psychological torture of Bisher and other detainees? Perhaps the most important question is why the US has kept Bisher in Guantanamo for so long. Judging from the records in Bisher’s combatant status review tribunal, a Mickey Mouse procedure ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, and judging by Bisher’s interviews with his lawyers, the only thing about Bisher in which the US is really interested is Abu Qatada. I believe they want Bisher to incriminate Abu Qatada and hope that Bisher will help them communicate once more with Abu Qatada.

Beyond Abu Qatada, the US seems to have no interest in Bisher at all. Indeed, few people, if any, in MI5 or, as I have been told, the US State Department now consider Bisher to be a serious security risk. So why are they keeping him? We have been told that the Bush Administration want to close down Guantanamo Bay, and we have been told that the British Government are against Guantanamo Bay, so why keep Bisher?

The situation is even more confusing when one considers the Government U-turn last March. Faced with a hearing in which Bisher’s work for MI5 would come out—no doubt MI5 agents would have been asked to give evidence—the Treasury solicitor agreed to make formal representations for Bisher to the United States, something that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the then Foreign Secretary, had told me on more than one occasion that he was not prepared to do.

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