UK requests release from Guantanamo Bay

The UK has requested the US releases five men held at Guantanamo Bay.

David Miliband and Jacqui Smith formally called on the US to release the men – who are not UK nationals but were all resident in the UK – although they admit negotiations could take some time.

The foreign secretary wrote today to US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice to begin formal proceedings.

By January 2005 the government had secured the release of all UK nationals held at Guantanamo Bay but this marks the first attempt to release foreign nationals.

The Foreign Office said it could only make representation on behalf of people with links to the UK.

The five men – Shaker Aamer, Jamil El Banna, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Abdennour Sameur – were all granted refugee status, indefinite or exceptional leave to remain in the UK prior to detention.

The government said it was heartened by the US’ moves to reduce the number of detainees and reaffirmed its long-term desire to see Guantanamo Bay shut down.

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the government’s efforts to release the five men, but said the move was long overdue.

Menzies Campbell said Mr Miliand and Ms Smith were making a belated recognition of the UK’s moral responsibility to the five men.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather has been campaigning on behalf of her constituent Mr el-Banna and also chairs the all-party group on Guantanamo Bay.

She said today: “This decision should have been taken years ago. Abandoning British residents to indefinite imprisonment in obscene conditions was a gross dereliction of duty by the government.

“Guantanamo Bay is an insult to democracy and a violation of the principles the war on terror purports to defend. Many questions remain over the Government’s complicity in the abduction and imprisonment of Jamil.”

Amnesty International, which has consistently opposed the detention facility, welcomed the UK’s move.

Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock said: “We’ve been saying for several years that the UK should have been seeking the fair trial or safe release of the UK residents imprisoned at Guantanamo.

“Guantanamo is a travesty of justice and it’s important that the government starts speaking out about hundreds of men still held there – they must not become Guantanamo’s forgotten prisoners.”