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London chef held at Guantanamo is free

TimesOnline
Sean O'Neill
May 3, 2007

A London chef held for four years in Guantanamo Bay on the basis of false information from an anonymous informant has been reunited with his family, The Times has learnt.

Ahmed Errachidi was freed from the American detention camp last week and flown back to his native Morocco after the British Government refused to intervene on his behalf.

He was taken to a Moroccan prison and appeared in court on Wednesday on terrorist charges.

But local human rights lawyers, instructed by the British charity Reprieve, argued successfully for the allegations to be dropped and secured his release.

Mr Errachidi, 40, who was working in the kitchen of a Mayfair Hotel at a time when the US authorities claimed he was at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, was welcomed from jail by his wife and two sons.

Speaking for the first time since his release, Mr Errachidi said he wanted to thank everyone in Britain who had worked for his release.

“I received 283 letters from people in Britain, 283 beautiful letters that gave me so much hope,” he said.

“I am particularly grateful to the mothers and fathers who let their young children write to me and send me the little cards they had drawn, as it was a constant reminder of my own two young boys.

“I am very sorry not to have written back to each and every person, but I was treated very, very badly in Guantanamo, they held me in isolation for months on end, and I did not even have a pen.”

The chef, who worked in restaurants around London for 16 years, was detained in Pakistan in 2002 and, according to testimony to a US military tribunal, sold for a $5,000 bounty to the CIA.

At Guantanamo Bay, the internment camp at a US naval base on Cuba, the American guards nicknamed him “The General” in the mistaken belief that he was an al-Qaeda commander.

Information from an unidentified source alleged that he had been an al-Qaeda training camp in July 2001. But Mr Errachidi’s British lawyers were able to produce payslips and witnesses to show that during that month he had been cooking at the Westbury Hotel on Bond Street.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve and Mr Errachidi’s lawyer, said: "Ahmed's case is an exhibit of everything that is wrong with Guantanamo Bay. The US military relied on false intelligence, saying Ahmed was the 'General' of al-Qaeda when he was only a chef from London.

“The US said Ahmed was training terrorists in Afghanistan at a time when he was cooking in a London hotel. When Ahmed was suffering from a mental breakdown in prison the US military continued to interrogate him. When the British government could have helped prove his innocence, they remained supine. When Ahmed asked to come back to England, where he worked for 18 years, the British government refused him the most basic humanitarian assistance.

“We can only hope that Ahmed gets his life back, with his children, and that the British Government develops a backbone such that it stands up for the moral principles that should be its lodestar."

The Government argued for the release of seven British citizens held at Guantanamo Bay but has refused to act in most the cases of men who are or have been British “residents”.

It made an exception in the case of Bisher al-Rawi, who was freed in March and allowed to return to Britain, after the High Court heard that he had had contacts with MI5.

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