Bisher al-Rawi had spent the last year in solitary confinement in GuantÃ¡namo, prompting concerns about his mental health. But his brother said the first signs were encouraging: “He’s OK, he’s lost a bit of weight, he’s still very stubborn. We sat down and we talked all night. He was telling us stories of what happened.”
Britain’s change of heart in eventually seeking Mr Rawi’s release came after he claimed to have been helping MI5 keep track of an alleged Islamist extremist in Britain. The claim, first revealed two years ago by the Guardian, relates to the preacher Abu Qatada, who was a family friend. The government’s efforts to seek Mr Rawi’s release are seen as an admission that his claims about helping the security services were true.
In a statement, Mr Rawi said: “After four years in GuantÃ¡namo Bay, my nightmare is finally at an end. The hopelessness you feel in GuantÃ¡namo can hardly be described. You are asked the same questions hundreds of times. Allegations are made against you that are laughably untrue, but you have no chance to prove them wrong. There is no trial, no fair legal process. I was alleged to have participated in terrorist training in Bosnia and Afghanistan. I’ve never been to Bosnia and the only time I visited Afghanistan was thanks to the hospitality of the CIA in an underground prison … outside Kabul.”
His lawyer said the US insisted on blindfolding and shackling him before handing him over to the British at GuantÃ¡namo Bay. On arriving in Britain he was asked quick questions about his political views, before being released. His lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, said: “The British have treated him with the utmost professionalism and respect. This was in sharp contrast to the US, who took him from his cell and put him on a plane shackled and blindfolded. They insisted on one last attempt to dehumanise him.” Mr Katznelson said the UK’s treatment showed it believed Mr Rawi did not pose a terrorist threat: “There clearly is a level of comfort with him. He was not arrested, he is a free man.’
Mr Rawi talked of his concern for another London man, Jamil el-Banna, who was seized with him in the Gambia and remains in GuantÃ¡namo. “As happy as I am to be home though, leaving my best friend Jamil el-Banna behind in GuantÃ¡namo Bay makes my freedom bittersweet.”
In his statement Mr Rawi said he felt great sorrow for nine British residents who remained in GuantÃ¡namo Bay: “Some are now on hunger strike protesting against their extended solitary confinement. The extreme isolation they are going through is one of the most profoundly difficult things to endure. I know that all too well.”