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Refugee's five years of legal limbo in Guantanamo

This is Hertfordshire
By Alex Ali
June 8, 2007

A London refugee has spent the past five years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay - he has never been charged with any crime or form of terrorism.

Abdennour Sameur, of Maple Avenue, Harrow, was 27 years old at the time he was granted asylum in the UK in April 2000, having fled from Algeria for fear of persecution at the hands of the military dictatorship.

He was given permission to stay permanently in the UK and after one year he would have been entitled to apply for British nationality.

But post 9/11 Abdennour was travelling in Afghanistan, staying in an Algerian house, when American forces invaded the country in their quest to search out Osama Bin Laden - the leader of terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda. Abdennour found himself in a country engulfed in war and was captured while trying to flee to Pakistan.

Reprieve - a London-based human rights organisation which fights for prisoners held without trial in the name of the "war on terror" - currently represents 37 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and has told the Harrow Times, sister paper of Local London, exclusively of the conditions which Abdennour has endured for the past five years.

Chris Chang, a caseworker for Reprieve, said: "To date, he has not been charged with a crime or had a trial. He remains in legal limbo.

"Abdennour sits in Guantanamo Bay, he is housed in Camp V, an entirely self-contained compound, surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. The prison walls are thick concrete. The narrow slit windows do not open at all.

"The glass is opaque, preventing prisoners from seeing the outside world. Abdennour's prison cell is six feet by eight feet. There he spends at least 22 hours a day.

"In the cell is a steel bunk, a steel toilet and a steel sink. Abdennour is handed food and toilet paper through a narrow slot in the door.

"His only possessions are a washcloth, an isomat - a one-inch thick foam pad - a toothbrush, toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a thin cotton sheet, a small prayer rug and a Qur'an.

"He wears a thin, cotton, short-sleeve tan shirt and trousers and flip-flops. Between the hours of 10pm and 5am only, Abdennour is provided a plastic blanket."

While Abdennour tried to flee from war torn Afghanistan he was seized by the Pakistani army near the border and was told he would be taken to the British Embassy.

However, the bus he was on crashed near the frontier and soldiers began shooting at the passengers. Unarmed, Abdennour was shot in both knees and in one of his hands. Abdennour was taken to hospital where he underwent extensive surgery on his legs. After two or three weeks in hospital, Abdennour was told he was being taken home. He could not bend his legs but was put on a stretcher and taken to an airport.

Instead of being sent back to Britain, Abdennour was handed over to the US military, flown to the US base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and then to Kandahar, where he was physically abused; at one point he was kicked repeatedly in the head.

Metal rods which had been placed in his legs by Pakistani surgeons became infected and his knees were bleeding.

Mr Chang said: "Abdennour was told by his American interrogators that he would not get any medical treatment unless he confessed. Terrified of having his legs amputated, Abdennour confessed to attending a training camp, an allegation he immediately recanted once he got treatment.

"Abdennour steadfastly maintains his innocence. However, he could not get the US to believe him. He spent more than two months in US custody in Afghanistan, then was transferred to Guantanamo Bay."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We keep a close contact as to the general affairs that go on in Guantanamo, but we don't make representations for people who aren't British individuals.

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