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Spain: Freed detainees too damaged to extradite

Associated Press

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Jamil el Banna talks to reporters as he leaves Westminster Magistrates Court on Dec. 20, 2007 in London. He was freed on bail pending a hearing for extradition to Spain.
PETER MACDIARMID / GETTY IMAGES
Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Jamil el Banna talks to reporters as he leaves Westminster Magistrates Court on Dec. 20, 2007 in London. He was freed on bail pending a hearing for extradition to Spain.

A Spanish judge dropped terror charges Thursday against two former Guantánamo Bay detainees who recently returned home to Britain, saying their mental health had deteriorated so badly they were suicidal and it would be cruel to prosecute them.

In a 10-page order, Judge Baltasar Garzon said he was abandoning an extradition request and the original indictment he issued in 2003 against Palestinian-Jordanian Jamil el Banna, 45, and Libyan-born Omar Deghayes, who is 38.

The men spent more than four years at the U.S. camp for terror suspects in Cuba without being charged or tried.

They returned to Britain in December under a deal between the United States and Britain, but were briefly detained under an international arrest warrant issued by Garzon, who accused them of belonging to an al Qaeda cell in Spain from 1999 to 2001.

They were freed from detention in Britain but since then have been awaiting the results of extradition proceedings.

Garzon said Banna spent more than five years in secret prisons in Gambia and Afghanistan and later Guantánamo Bay, and had undergone torture and mistreatment that led to ``progressive deterioration of his mental health.''

Deghayes met a similar fate in jails in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Bagram, Afghanistan, and then in Guantánamo, the judge wrote.

Those experiences caused ''grave deterioration of the mental health of the suspects'' and this ''makes it impossible, because it would be inhumane,'' to proceed with the arrest warrants and the rest of the case, Garzon wrote.

''It's good. It's happy news,'' Deghayes said from his home in Brighton, on England's southern coast. ``I always knew they would realize their mistake and give up the case.''

''I still have problems with immigration as the authorities have taken away my resident status, but this is a relief, of course,'' Deghayes said.

Garzon said he was acting on the basis of medical examinations of the suspects that were carried out by British physicians and made public on Feb. 12.

These doctors -- identified as Derek Fluxman and Helen Bamber of Harrow Road Health Centre in London -- concluded that Banna suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, diabetes, hypertension, back pain and other physical ailments.

Deghayes also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, blindness in his right eye and fractures to his nose and right index finger, the judge said, citing the British physicians.

The doctors concluded both suspects showed suicidal tendencies, Garzon said.

Garzon had accused the suspects of belonging to an al Qaeda cell led by Imad Yarkas, who is serving a 12-year jail term in Spain on terrorism charges.

The cell allegedly sent people to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and recruited for the cause of radical Islam, according to Garzon.

The judge wrote that after indicting Banna and Deghayes in 2003 and asking U.S. authorities to extradite them, he never heard from the Americans.

''Unfortunately, and incomprehensibly, the extradition request was not even rejected,'' Garzon said. ``It was just ignored.''

Clive Stafford Smith, founder of campaigning group Reprieve, who represented Banna and Deghayes, said Garzon had acknowledged ``these guys have suffered enough. They have been psychologically scarred from what happened to them in Guantánamo and before.''

''This is obviously a humane and sensible response from the Spanish authorities, albeit belated,'' Stafford Smith said.

 

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