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Spain drops request to extradite former Guantánamo pair

by Paul Hamilos and Vikram Dodd
March 6, 2008

Two former Guantánamo Bay detainees accused by Spain of membership of an al-Qaida cell in Madrid will not be extradited from the UK after a Spanish judge ruled they were not fit to stand trial.

Jamil el-Banna, 45, and Omar Deghayes, 38, were reunited with their families in the UK last December after five years in US detention.

Upon arrival in London, they were immediately re-arrested when the investigating judge, Batlasar Garzón, issued warrants for their extradition to Spain.

The pair were released on bail - £40,000 of it paid by the actor Vanessa Redgrave - ahead of a full extradition hearing, which was due to have taken place on April 15.

Today Garzón ruled the pair were suffering severe mental and physical problems after their time in Guantánamo and were not fit to stand trial in Spain.

Garzón, Spain's leading investigative judge who sits at the national court in Madrid, archived the case against the pair, basing his decision on medical reports on their condition provided by the British authorities.

According to the judge's order, two British doctors, Jonathan Derek Fluxman and Helen Bamber, examined the pair at the Harrow Road health centre in February and diagnosed serious medical conditions caused by torture at the hands of their captors and the inhumane conditions in which they were kept for five years.

Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to have diabetes, hyper-tension, back pain and damage to the back of his left knee. Deghayes is also suffering from PTSD, depression, is blind in his right eye, and has fractures in his nasal bone and right index finger. Both men are said to present a high risk of suicide.

The doctors' report on Deghayes, signed by Fluxman, concluded that "given all these factors, I don't see how Mr Deghayes would be able to give instructions to his lawyers, listen to evidence and give his own accurate testimony".

A similar conclusion was drawn in the case of Banna. The doctors said were he to be separated from his wife and children again, he risked a severe deterioration of his already fragile mental health.

Garzón's order said these medical conditions had been confirmed by two forensic doctors in Spain, and said the "PTSD and depression mark a before and after in the lives and psychiatric" condition of the two men. It said their recovery was "uncertain", meaning they were not capable of defending themselves in any potential trial.

The order blamed the medical condition of Banna on the "five years [he spent] in secret prisons in Gambia and Afghanistan and latterly in Guantánamo ... in inhumane conditions", during which time he was tortured, resulting in the "progressive deterioration of his mental condition". In the case of Deghayes, it said he was tortured and badly treated in prisons in Islamabad, Bagram and finally Guantánamo before his release at the end of last year.

Speaking from his home in Brighton, Mr Deghayes said: "It's good - it's happy news. I always knew they would realise their mistake and give up the case."

The father-of-one said he hopes curfews imposed on him and Mr el-Banna will be lifted.

At the time of their re-arrest in December, the two men were each required to pay £50,000 bail and abide by strict conditions including a curfew, electronic tags, and not travelling abroad.

Clive Stafford Smith, founder of campaigning group Reprieve, who represented both men, said: "It is based on the fact that these guys have suffered enough. They have been psychologically scarred from what happened to them in Guantánamo and before."

At a hearing at City of Westminster magistrates court in December, Melanie Cumberland, representing the Spanish government, said Banna had been a member of the terrorist cell Islamic Alliance in Madrid and an associate of Imad Yarkas, also known as Abi Dahdah, who was convicted of terrorism offences in Spain.

Madrid alleges that Banna and Dehayes were members of a terrorist cell that recruited jihadis, sending them to camps in Afghanistan and Indonesia. The cell was alleged to have raised funds and disseminated al-Qaida propaganda in Spain.

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Get Judge Garzon's decision here.