Guantanamo Britons challenge their detention

By Helen Johnstone

The Independent

03 July 2004

Two Britons are among nine detainees who are to challenge the legality of the American government holding them at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer confirmed last night.

The cases, filed in the US District Court in Washington, are the first to be reported since the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that nearly 600 detainees held at the US naval base in Cuba had the right to contest their captivity in the American courts.

The detainees include two Britons, Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham, and Feroz Abbasi, from Croydon. The others are Jamil El-Banna, a Palestinian, and Bisher Al-Rawi, an Iraqi, both of whom were formerly British residents, and three French citizens, a German Turk and a Canadian.

The habeas corpus petitions demand that the US government explain in court why they are being held.

Jeffrey Fogel, the legal director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has taken up their cases, said: "This is the beginning of trying to enforce precisely what the Supreme Court mandated as a way to obtain justice. The first step is that the government has to respond."

He said the petitions were filed by lawyers from various law firms working in conjunction with the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

The lawyers had not been able to meet any detainees in Cuba, Mr Fogel said, but they had authorisation from prisoners' families. However, it was not immediately clear last night how the courts would respond to the requests for hearings.

The Guantanamo detainees are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qa'ida or the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan. But defence lawyers argue that some had little or no connection with the war in Afghanistan.