Comment: Final justice for Guantánamo?

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The Government must avoid giving ammunition to Islamist propagandists by guaranteeing British ex-detainees get the same basic benefits as the rest of us

THE STORY of Guantánamo Bay is familiar for many of us, but the fate of the prison’s inmates after they leave and attempt to integrate into society is one we pay less attention to.

This should not be the case in a compassionate democracy, but the issue has become all the more pressing now President Barack Obama has broken with the policies of his predecessor by pledging to close the camp within a year.

guantanamo-6Obama’s refusal to use the term ‘enemy combatant’ should also restore some of the lost humanity of those held there, which demonstrates the problems in our perception of those caught up in the ‘War on Terror’ waged by George Bush.

In an exclusive interview with the Hackney Post (see pages 8 and 9), ex-Guantánamo detainee Tarek Dergoul has revealed the shameful treatment he received after eventually returning home to Hackney.

The 31-year-old says he was tortured during three years of imprisonment in Cuba but was then refused basic benefits after coming back to Britain.

Dergoul was released without charge and although he should have got the same care that anyone would hope for after a period of such suffering this was not the case.
Humiliated, he had to campaign for three years to secure simple income support and housing benefit.

This is the same length of time he was denied liberty on a barren beach 90 miles from America.

The British Government has been too content to leave its citizens in the extrajudicial custody of another nation – out of sight and out of mind.

Soon all European Union states must accept they have a responsibility to repatriate at least some of the 244 Guantánamo prisoners when they are eventually allowed to leave.

This will hopefully remove what has been an effective call to arms for Islamist propagandists.

Someone who served his community by caring for the elderly like Dergoul should not have faced so many obstacles or had to turn to a human rights charity to finally get the services he craved.

His daily struggle to communicate with family is down to the lack of connection he can feel with those who have not suffered as he has.

Salvation could lie with the charity Cageprisoners where he is currently working on a documentary featuring fresh interviews with every one of his fellow British inmates – all 13 of whom were eventually released from Guantánamo without charge.

As the driving force behind the project, perhaps it will finally allow Dergoul to escape from the social and mental imprisonment caused by the horrors he claims to have experienced in Cuba.

(Photo: habacuc_1988, from Flickr)