Anas el-Banna: New Statesman Person of 2007
Anas el-Banna, the son of the Guantanamo detainee Jamil el-Banna, has won the New Statesman’s Person of the Year Humanity Award for 2007 (the competition included anti-arms trade campaigner Mark Thomas, Hugo Chavez, Alan Johnston, Scott Ritter and Rachel North, a woman who was injured in the July 2005 London bombings). His father was kidnapped by the forces of the despotic, half-demented president of the Gambia, Yahya “I can cure AIDS” Jammeh (clearly an Uncle Tom despite his occasional anti-western rhetoric), handed over to the Americans who were then out to find any Muslims who had been to places they supposedly shouldn’t have been, flown to their torture camp at Bagram, Afghanistan, and thence to Guantanamo Bay where he has been held ever since. There has been a campaign to get the British government to seek their release, because although they were long-term residents with family in the UK, among them British citizens, he was not a citizen himself:
Gordon Brown, for his part, will surely be grateful to have received his last letter from the young man. In all, Anas wrote five times to Downing Street, the earlier letters going to Tony Blair, and his style had developed to a point where they must have been almost unbearable to read.
“Dear Mr Brown, how are you?” they would begin, and they would end with something like: “I hope you have a good Father’s Day with your children.” In between, in his untidy schoolboy script, Anas would deliver a potent cocktail of entreaty, observation and reproach. The most recent contained a topical allusion: “I was very happy when I saw you on the news showing interest in Madeleine McCann who was kidnapped from her parents. I also hope that Madeleine is reunited with her family safely because I also know what it is like to have someone in your family kidnapped . . .”
And Jamil el-Banna was indeed kidnapped. He was arrested in 2002 while on a business trip to Gambia and handed over to the United States, which flew him secretly to a CIA interrogation centre in Kabul before transferring him to Guantanamo Bay. George Brent Mickum, his attorney in the US, says: “He has been through hell, mistreated and/or tortured everywhere he has been, and his weak link has always been his love for his family. I believe US officials used that against him, keeping all his letters from him for years.”
Mickum says the accusations against el-Banna and the justifications for holding on to him have always been feeble. He was accused of helping transport a bomb, which was in truth nothing more than a battery charger, and of association with various individuals who have never been convicted of anything, notably his business partner Bisher al-Rawi, who has been free and back in Britain since last spring.
Reports now say that Jamil al-Banna is about to be released, insha Allah.
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