LONDON — Five men who were quickly freed in Britain after more than two years in U.S. military detention at Guantanamo Bay retreated from the spotlight Thursday while their representatives condemned their treatment by the United States.
British police had arrested four of the men immediately when they returned to Britain Tuesday on suspicion of terrorism offenses, but released them late Wednesday without charge.
A fifth man had not been arrested when the group arrived, and was freed within hours after being questioned.
“It is what we expected to happen,” said Steven Watt, a British lawyer with the U.S. based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented two of the arrested men — Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul.
“I think what happened in terms of them arriving at a military base in the U.K. and taken into custody was just window dressing for the benefit of the U.S. government,” Watt added.
Iqbal, 22, Rasul, 26, Ruhal Ahmed, 22, and Tarek Dergoul, 26. were given police escorts to undisclosed locations of their choice when they were released from a high security prison in west London following their interrogation by anti-terrorism officers.
Jamal al-Harith, 37, had been released earlier.
Families of the five returnees have said they were mistakenly caught up in the U.S. war on terrorism.
“I think it is tragic, it is deplorable what happened to them,” Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, told reporters outside Ahmed’s family home in Tipton, central England.
The U.S. government says the roughly 640 prisoners held at Guantanamo are suspected of having links to Afghanistan’s fallen Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terror network.
Watt said the speedy release of all five men in Britain “makes a complete nonsense of Guantanamo.”
“I think they are owed something by the U.S. government, but whether they will ever be able to get it is another thing,” Watt said.
Ahmed, Iqbal and Rasul, friends from Tipton, near Birmingham in central England, reportedly traveled to Pakistan in 2001. Details of how they were picked up by the U.S. authorities are sketchy.
Looking for answers
Robert Lizar, the lawyer for al-Harith, has said his client wanted the U.S. authorities “to answer for the injustice which he has suffered.”
“He has been treated in a cruel, inhumane and degrading manner, he wants the authorities to answer for that,” Lizar added.
British actor and human rights activist Corin Redgrave said al-Harith, a Web site designer who converted to Islam, was picked up by the Taliban in Afghanistan because he had a British passport and couldn’t account for his presence. U.S. forces found him in a Taliban jail.
Max Clifford, a spokesman for Dergoul’s family, said the former prisoner was mentally fragile and “physically he is not in a very good condition."
Gareth Peirce, a lawyer for Iqbal and Rasul, said “they appear to outwardly be resilient and to have survived but the advice we have from those who are expert in, for instance, returning hostages, is that is a deceptive appearance at the beginning.”
“There’s a high and then there might be a very profound low,” Peirce added in an interview with BBC radio.
Louise Christian, Dergoul’s lawyer, said attention should now turn to the other four British men still being held in Guantanamo.
“What I’m now thinking of is the other four people who’ve been left behind ... and what their families must be thinking of as they are watching this news coverage ... and that the British government has betrayed their promise to bring all nine British citizens back again,” Christian told the BBC.
Britain and the United States are continuing discussions about the remaining four Britons at the camp. Britain has insisted its nationals either receive fair trials or be returned home.
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