'British' Guantanamo suspects 'too ill to stand trial in Spain', judge rules
By MICHAEL SEAMARK
Last updated at 23:11 06 March 2008
Two terror suspects freed from Guantanamo Bay will fight to stay in Britain after a Spanish judge yesterday dropped attempts to extradite them.
Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes were due to stand trial in Spain over claims that they had links to the September 11 attacks and the bombings in Madrid.
However, the judge yesterday ruled that more than five years in the controversial US detention camp had left the men suicidal. He said it would be "inhumane" to subject them to a trial.
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'Unfit for trial': Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes are mentally scarred by their time at Guantanamo and showing suicidal tendencies, according to British doctors
El-Banna and Deghayes are both foreign nationals who had been granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain before being arrested and sent to Guantanamo.
The Home Office said last night the immigration status of both is now under review.
Zachary Katznelson, from the legal charity Reprieve which represents the men, said: "These men suffered horrors for years at the hands of the United States.
"They never had a trial of any type, yet they served more than five years in a brutal prison.
"It is now time to let them rebuild their lives here in the UK - it's where their families are and it's where they call home."
Atrocity: Spain says the two men were part of an Al Qaeda cell linked to the 9/11 attacks
When el-Banna and Deghayes were flown back to Britain in December last year, the effects of their long imprisonment by the US authorities were apparent.
El-Banna had a long grey beard and waist-length hair, and looked far older than his 45 years, while Deghayes claimed he had lost the sight in one eye during his time in Guantanamo.
They were rearrested within hours of their return to Britain after Spain lodged an extradition request.
Officials there claimed the men were involved in an Al Qaeda cell linked to the 9/11 attacks and bombings in Madrid.
Both were released on bail and allowed to return to their families after guarantees worth £100,000 - including £40,000 from Vanessa Redgrave - were put forward.
In a hearing at the City of Westminster magistrates court yesterday, father-of-five el-Banna was told he must live at his home in Dollis Hill, North West London, observe a curfew and wear an electronic tag.
The Jordanian national, who travelled to Britain on a false passport, speaks little English, and answered questions in court in Arabic.
Deghayes, a 38-year-old Libyan national whose family live in Brighton, was also tagged and put under a strict curfew.
The Spanish authorities had claimed both men were part of a cell led by Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas - who is in prison in Spain for his links to the September 11 atrocities.
Yarkas was leader of a Madrid-based Al Qaeda group called the Islamic Alliance, which had links with Abu Qatada, a London-based extremist cleric who is said to be a friend of el-Banna.
However, judge Baltasar Garzon yesterday said that imprisonment in Guantanamo had caused "grave deterioration of the mental health of the suspects" and it was "impossible" and "inhumane" to proceed with the case.
British doctors had concluded both suspects showed suicidal tendencies, the judge said.
Deghayes said last night: "It's good. It's happy news. I always knew they would realise their mistake and give up the case."
He added: "I still have problems with immigration as the authorities have taken away my resident status, but this is a relief, of course."
Mr Katznelson said: "We are thrilled to hear that Judge Baltasar Garzon has done the right thing and dropped his request for extradition of Jamil and Omar.
"The men were granted temporary admission when they returned in December but before they went to Guantanamo they both had indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
"We would hope the British government would return them to their original status.
"The UK government fully investigated the men before and upon their return home and found they had violated no laws."
He added: "The men have been examined by medical professionals whose reports showed they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and many other things from their time in the hands of the Americans."