LONDON (Reuters) - An MP has called for Prime Minister Tony Blair to intervene with U.S. President George W. Bush to try to secure the release of a long-time British resident held at Guantanamo Bay.
Liberal Democrat member of parliament Edward Davey said late on Monday that Bisher al-Rawi’s lawyers believed his mental health was deteriorating fast after four years in the U.S. detention camp for terrorism suspects.
Davey said al-Rawi — an Iraqi citizen who lived in Britain for many years — knew radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada but said he believed al-Rawi was innocent of any crime.
Abu Qatada has launched a legal challenge against British attempts to deport him to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia on charges of involvement in terrorist plots.
Davey secured a parliamentary debate on the fate of al-Rawi, who used to live in his British constituency.
During the debate, Davey asked Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney if he would ask Blair to “urgently raise Bisher’s case with the U.S. president direct to help secure Bisher’s immediate release back to the United Kingdom.”
“We are in good faith, proactively seeking to achieve (al-Rawi’s) release from Guantanamo Bay and return to the UK,” McCartney replied.
McCartney said there were “sensitive and complicated issues” involved and the discussions took time.
Britain has secured the release of all nine of its citizens held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba but argues it is not obliged to seek the release of several other detainees who merely lived in Britain.
Top British courts have rejected legal efforts by relatives of British residents held in Guantanamo Bay — including al-Rawi — to make the British government press for their release.
Nevertheless, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year to ask for the release of al-Rawi.
Al-Rawi came to Britain 23 years ago when his family fled late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Davey said. The rest of his family became British citizens but al-Rawi retained Iraqi citizenship in hopes that his family might one day be able to reclaim their property in Iraq, he said.
Davey said al-Rawi and a friend were arrested by Gambian authorities when they arrived at the airport there in late 2002. They were handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and taken to Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, he said.
He accused Britain’s MI5 intelligence service of being complicit in the arrest of al-Rawi. He said al-Rawi had told his lawyer that he had once worked for MI5.
McCartney said Britain had not asked for al-Rawi to be detained in Gambia and denied Britain had played any role in his transfer to Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay.
The United States has faced international criticism over its indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.