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I welcomed that U-turn, but it prompted a serious question: why did the UK Government not make the request at an earlier date? Why, given all the evidence including representations by me and the family, did the British Government have to wait until March 2006 and the pressure of a court hearing before they decided to make representations for Bisher? Now that the Government have started to make those representations, why has there apparently been so little progress? Why are the
Government not making representations for all the British residents, and why are they not making them now and fervently?
I hope that the Minister will answer a few questions about the representations that the Government have tried to carry out. Will he tell me when the request for the release and return of Bisher al-Rawi, which was promised on 22 March 2006 by the Treasury solicitor, was first made? On how many subsequent occasions has that request for Bishers return been followed up by either Ministers or officials, on which dates and with what effect? What have been the main elements of the US response to the UKs request for Bishers release? Above all, what is the latest development and expectation for any ongoing discussions with the Americans on Bisher?
After the Government said that they would make representations, I waited a few months and then met a State Department representative in Washington last year to find out how the representations were going. I was shocked to learn how inter-agency rivalries, especially between the State Department and the Defence Department, were a real problem. I learned that the Pentagon, not the State Department, was calling the shots. Indeed, the State Department was extremely uninterested in representations from our Foreign Secretary and made it pretty clear that the Defence Department was even less interested.
The Pentagon has some very bureaucratic procedures for considering a detainees release, all of which are based around a detainees file. Clearly, a detainee will not be released by the Pentagon if their file contains any grounds for continuing detention. Much of the contents of Bishers file would have come from MI5, which is why I followed up my meeting with the State Department with a meeting with the Minister last July. I made the unusual request for the Minister somehow to get MI5 to review all the evidence and information provided by the UK to the US about Bisher, so that any mistakes sitting in Bishers file, such as the mistake about the battery charger, could be rectified. At the time, the Minister did not give me a full assurance that he would do so, but I ask the Minister tonight whether it has been done. Have the UK Government ever sought to correct, clarify or withdraw any inaccurate allegations contained in the information provided to the United States by MI5 in respect of Bisher? If not, why not? If so, when and to what effect? If such a request has not been made, will the Minister assure me that it will be done immediately?
If the Minister cannot give me such an assurance, I hope that he will understand my alarm. According to the lawyers who have met Bisher over the past few months, Bishers health is deteriorating fast. A recent legal declaration by one of Bishers lawyers states:
In my opinion, his extended isolation and harsh conditions of confinement are causing him severe mental distress and may have a lasting negative psychological impact. I am particularly concerned by the deterioration I have observed over time. To put it simply, my greatest fear is that Mr Al Rawi, if not released immediately from prison will no longer be Mr Al Rawi.
Can the Minister tell me how those health concerns are affecting negotiations about Bisher? What efforts have
been made to have UK consulate and medical officials visit him, and indeed the other British residents? What reports on Bishers health have been given to the Minister?
When I reflect on this sorry state of affairs, I reflect on the need to wage a battle against terrorism to ensure that its evil does not go around the world. I look at Bishers case and think what signal it sends to Muslims and Arabs who want to help in the fight against terrorismabsolutely the wrong signal. Bisher is an example of someone who wanted to help the British secret services and to help to prevent terrorismand this is how he has been treated. I cannot think of a worse way of trying to tackle terrorism.
For Bisher and his family, it is time that this injustice was ended. It is time that the British Government made amends for the many failings to date, especially by MI5. It is time that the Prime Minister made a personal request to President Bush to secure the release of Bisher al-Rawi from Guantanamo.
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) has given us to debate the detention of his constituent, Mr. al-Rawi. I pay tribute to him for his perseverance in this case on behalf of his constituent. I understand that this is of huge importance to Mr. al-Rawis family and friends. I also understand that Guantanamo Bay is of considerable interest to many others too. I respect both points and have taken careful account of them in preparing my contribution to this evenings debate.
The hon. Gentleman raised security issues to which I cannot respond. I assure him that I will keep in contact with him on those matters, as I have on others. I will review what he has said this evening and the discussions that we have had, and if there is any need for further discussions I will make contact with him.
I need to begin by asking the House to respect the wider context of this debate. Before I enter into the detail of Mr. al-Rawis case, it is important for us all to remember the circumstances which led to Guantanamo Bay and how they have had a profound effect on the US Governments security policy, and indeed our own, over the past few years. None of us can forget that almost 3,000 people were killed during the horrific terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It remains a chilling figure, as do the images from that awful day. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 15 March 2006, if the attacks of 11 September had happened in the UK rather than the US, it would have changed our politics and security parameters just as it has changed those of the Americans.
Let us not think that 9/11 was an isolated incident. The list of major terrorist attacks, preceding and subsequent, is long. They include attacks and hundreds of people killed in East Africa, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Pakistanand of course 52 people were killed in this city in 2005. The casualty figures would have been even higher had any of the numerous planned attacks that have been foiled since 2000 succeededin the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.
We face a major threat from international terrorism and are likely to do so for many years to come. This is the shocking reality we face, and international co-operation to counter this global threat is of critical importance. We will continue to take steps to protect our citizens: for that I make no apologies.
Let me turn to Guantanamo Bay. The British Governments position is clear. Notwithstanding what I have said about the reasons why the US created Guantanamo Bay in the first place and the continuing threat from terrorism, we believe, as I stated on 15 June in the debate in this House on the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices human rights annual report 2006, and as the Prime Minister and other colleagues have said, that Guantanamo should close.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton implies that the British Government have been inactive over Guantanamo. That is not the case. Yes, we have interviewed detainees there about the threat to the UKs national securityit would have been irresponsible not to do so. However, we have also worked tirelessly to secure the release of all the UK nationals who were detained there. Five were released in March 2004 and the remaining four in January 2005. That was our understandable priority. Since then, we have pressed the US Government hard on Guantanamos future and the broader issues raised by the camp. The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them this evening.
We welcome the US Presidents public commitment to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as practicable, and the US Governments progress to that end. I understand that nearly 800 detainees have passed through Guantanamo, of whom approximately 340 have been released, leaving about 435 detainees. Four were recently transferred back to Bahrain, Iran and Pakistan, and I know that the US Government are working hard to reduce the numbers as quickly as possible. That is a complicated task. Careful consideration shouldand isbeing given to how numbers at the camp can be reduced. The dilemma for the US is maintaining international security while respecting the human rights of detainees when they are released.
Our position on Guantanamos future is principled and pragmatic, reflecting the need to balance security and liberty. We will continue to follow developments in Guantanamo Bay closely and to discuss conditions there, as well as wider detainee issues, with the US Government.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend said, through our prolonged representations to the American Government we succeeded in retrieving the British citizens who were held in Guantanamo. However, have we requested the return of any of the British residents held in Guantanamo? What are the Americans saying about that? Do they say that we cannot have Mr. al-Rawi back unless we have all 10 British residents back, or do they say something else? Perhaps they have not been asked.
We are dealing specifically with Mr. al-Rawis case and circumstances. Several other cases are awaiting a House of Lords ruling and I therefore do not want to comment on them. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton pointed out that a
constituent of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) is involved in the case that will go before the House of Lords. I shall not comment on that until a decision has been made because it will have implications for the points that my hon. Friend made.
Mr. McCartney: We are often asked about the circumstances of detainees who were formerly resident in the United Kingdom. It is a long-standing Government policy not to offer consular assistance to non-British nationals, except when a specific agreement to do so exists with another state. A long period of residence in the UK is not a substitute for British nationality. However, in 2005, my noble Friend Baroness Symons agreed exceptionally to meet, on a humanitarian basis, the families and representatives of those detainees whom we knew were formerly resident in the UK but were not British nationals, and we passed on the concerns that the families expressed to the US authorities. We continue regularly to raise humanitarian concerns about detentions at the Bay with the USA, including those about detainees who were formerly resident in the UK. That goes back to the point that I made to my hon. Friend a few moments ago. I cannot and shall not discuss matters that will come before the courts.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): The British Government often state that they have no standing in international law to request the release of non-British citizens who were resident in the UK. However, did not Angela Merkel manage to negotiate the release of a non-German national? Why cannot the British Government do the same?
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton made it clear that, in a case in December 2006, the House of Lords granted permission for families to appeal. Mr. al-Rawi is no longer part of those proceedings, so we can discuss him but not the other cases. Their outcome may have a significant impact on decisions about such matters generally. The hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) have made their points. I have tried to answer them as fully as possible in the context of our discussion.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I come back to the subject of the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)the specific subject of this debate? Will the Minister answer the questions put by my hon. Friendthey were also asked more generally by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)about whether the Government have made representations to the American Government about my hon. Friends constituent? On how many occasions have any such representations been made; what was the response; and from whom did it come?
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman should allow me to set out my response to his hon. Friend and should take account of what I said in my opening remarks about the generality of the case and my response to it.
I would like to draw the Houses attention to President Bushs speech of 6 September 2006. We welcomed a number of steps announced in this speechin particular, the stated intention to treat all detainees in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva conventions and to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to 14 so-called high value detainees. The US intention to prosecute those key detainees is also welcome, not least to the many victims of international terrorism and their families. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretaries and senior Government officials and lawyers have all been actively involved in Guantanamo-related matters for a long while. It is a picture of considerable and overall productive engagement.
I turn now to deal with the specific subject of this debate: Mr. al-Rawi and what we are doing to achieve his release from Guantanamo. I must begin by responding to the charge made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton that the British Government were complicit in his constituents arrest and detention. As the hon. Gentleman set out, Mr. al-Rawi travelled to Gambia and was arrested on arrival. I must stress absolutely and categorically that the UK did not request the detention of the hon. Gentlemans constituent in Gambia; nor did the UK play any role in his transfer to Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay. To suggest otherwise is, quite simply, not the case.
As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton mentioned, the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, agreed in March 2006 to make representations to the US Government for Mr. al-Rawis release from Guantanamo Bay and his return to the UK. That decision was based on the particular circumstances in Mr. al-Rawis case. On 6 April 2006, having taken that decision, my right hon. Friend wrote to the US Secretary of State to ask formally for his release and return. The US State Department replied to the British ambassador in Washington later that month and detailed discussions between our Governments have continued since.
Mr. Davey: May I take the Minister back to the point about complicity? During the judicial proceedings last March, various cables that MI5 sent to the Americans in Gambia were released, so they are a matter of public record. In those cables, it is very clear that the British authorities were seeking the detention of Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna and Abdullah el-Janoudi. Is the Minister denying that? I believe that those cables are a matter of public record.
Mr. McCartney: I cannot add to what I have already said or make it any clearer. I thought that I had made it absolutely clear in my response to what he said. I give him an absolute assurance [Interruption.] I am trying to be as helpful and open as I possibly can. I hope that one thing that will be clear to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends is our genuine desire to resolve this matter in an effective way until this gentleman returns to the UK.
There are some difficult issues, so I may not be able to answer or resolve all the questions in the way that the hon. Gentleman wishes. I am not able to respond to
every question in the way that he wants, but there is one underlying fact. He asked whether we were working to return his constituent and the answer is yes. He asks whether we are working productively and the answer is yes. We are putting a great deal of effort to ensure that we proceed as best we can. I am giving the underlying assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks through this Adjournment debate. I can reassure him that we are pursuing the matter vigorously with the US Government and that we will continue to do so.
It is important to recognise that these are sensitive and complicated issues. The hon. Gentleman has clarified his view in respect of them and they require detailed discussions with the various interested departments, as he suggested. He discussed his efforts to secure his constituents release, but the House will understand that discussions about returning UK nationals from Guantanamo Bay take time. They took many months in the previous cases and similar issues are at play in this case. [ Interruption.] I understood that this debate could continue until 10.30 pm. Am I allowed to continue? I apologise; I thought that someone just said that there was only a minute to go.
I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to securing Mr. al-Rawis release from Guantanamo Bay and his return to the UK. We believe that our work should be allowed to come to a successful conclusion.
Mr. McCartney: That is a mere technicality. Later this year, it will be 20 years since I came into the House, but these things still confuse me. I apologise, Mr. Speaker; I should have sat down when you wanted me to. I apologise to the Whips as well.
I reiterate that we are committed to securing Mr. al-Rawis release from Guantanamo Bay and his return to the UK. We believe that our work should be allowed to come to a successful conclusion. I will keep the hon. Gentleman informed of any developments. I am sure that the House will understand that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised concerns about Mr. al-Rawis health and the conditions of his detention. I stress that we continue to raise humanitarian concerns about detentions at Guantanamo Bay with the US authorities. As part of our regular exchanges with the United States, we have raised on a number of occasions issues relating to detainees who were formerly resident in the UK, including Mr. al-Rawi. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question about that, and I confirm that that is the case.
Following contact with Mr. al-Rawis lawyers just before Christmas, we raised specific concerns about his conditions of detention and health with the United States Government. They were the same concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed in the House this evening, and the US Government have confirmed to us that they are looking into them. We are taking full account of Mr. al-Rawis well-being in our work to secure his release. The hon. Gentleman asked me specific questions on that. Yes, we have raised those
issues with the United States Government, and yes, that is part of the process of working to secure Mr. al-Rawis release.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Abu Qatada. The House should be in no doubt about the threat that we believe Abu Qatada poses to the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to Abu Qatada as a truly dangerous individual who is
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