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Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna, and Abdullah El-Janoudi are scheduled to fly from London to Gambia on November 1, 2002. They are going to help al-Rawi’s brother start a peanut factory there. Al-Rawi had worked as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5, helping them communicate with imam Abu Qatada, but he was fired several months earlier (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer 2002). Al-Banna had also been informally helping MI5 with Abu Qatada, but the day before their trip he had turned down an offer to formally work as an MI5 informant (see Summer-Early November 2002 and October 31, 2002). El-Janoudi is a friend and a British citizen, while the other two men are long-time British residents. At Gatwick Airport in London, the three men are detained by security agents. For four days, they are questioned by police about their luggage and their ties to Abu Qatada. In particular, they are interested in a device al-Rawi has. But on closer inspection, it turns out to be a modified store-bought battery charger. Their houses are also searched for evidence. Finally they are cleared and let go. While they are being held, MI5 contacts the CIA and warns that the three men are about to go to Gambia. MI5 calls al-Rawi an “Iraqi extremist” linked to Abu Qatada and says the battery charger is a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 already knows this is not true. They fail to mention that al-Rawi and al-Banna have been working as MI5 informants. By the time the three men can get another flight to Gambia, seven days have passed. The Washington Post will later note that this “has led to [later] speculation by the men’s attorneys and families that the delay gave the CIA time to position operatives in Gambia.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] The CIA, believing the false information sent by MI5, will detain the three men as soon as they arrive in Gambia on November 8 (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Wahab al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, both long-time British residents, and Abdullah El-Janoudi, a British citizen, fly from London to Gambia. They are planning to help al-Rawi’s brother, Wahab al-Rawi, set up a mobile peanut oil processing company. But before they left, they were detained for several days by police. Meanwhile, the British intelligence agency MI5 sent the CIA false information about them, for instance alleging that al-Rawi was traveling with a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 had already inspected it and determined it was simply a battery charger (see November 1-7, 2002). MI5 asks the CIA to detain and question them when they arrive in Gambia. Wahab al-Rawi is already in Gambia, and when he and a friend arrive to greet the three men, all five of them are detained by Gambian agents. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] But the men are moved to hidden locations and safe houses around the capital. Technically, they are held by the NIA, the Gambian intelligence agency, but CIA agents act as if they are in charge. They are intensively interrogated for many days, and one American using the alias Lee leads the questioning. Al-Rawi and al-Banna had recently worked as informants for MI5, helping them communicate with the radical imam Abu Qatada, who was said to be in hiding but was really an MI5 informant himself (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002). However, MI5 has given the CIA the impression that they were not informants but were plotting with Qatada. Al-Rawi will later say, “From the beginning, the questions made it plain that the Americans had been given the contents of my own MI5 file, which was supposed to be confidential. Lee even told me the British were giving him information. I had agreed to help MI5 because I wanted to prevent terrorism, and now the information I had freely given them was being used against me in an attempt to prove that I myself was some kind of terrorist.” [Observer, 7/29/2007] When Wahab refuses to cooperate and asks either for a lawyer or a representative from the British high commission, the Gambian agents laugh and tell him it was the British who ordered the arrests. [Guardian, 7/11/2003] According to Amnesty International, one of them is warned that if he does not cooperate he will be turned over to the Gambian police who will “beat and rape him.” [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] The Washington Post will later report, “The primary purpose of this elaborate operation, documents and interviews suggest, was not to neutralize a pair of potential terrorists—authorities have offered no evidence that they were planning attacks—but to turn them into informers.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer will later speculate, “Either it was an attempt to put these guys at risk and to use them to find evidence that would implicate Abu Qatada, or it was an attempt to bring them within the closer control of MI5.” Just a day before leaving Britain, MI5 agents asked al-Banna to become a full-time informant and he had turned them down (see October 31, 2002). After about a month, all but Bisher al-Rawi and al-Banna are freed and allowed to return to Britain. The two of them, however, are flown to the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, where harsher interrogation methods can be used on them. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Before they leave Gambia, one of their US interrogators tells al-Rawi that they now realize the two of them were MI5 informants, but they will be sent to Bagram anyway. “He told me: ‘We know you were working for MI5’, and said if I told the truth I would get out.” [Observer, 7/29/2007]
The CIA has been interrogating two British residents, Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, in Gambia after the British intelligence agency MI5 falsely told the CIA the two of them were dangerous radical militants. In fact, they were informants working for MI5, and MI5 appears to have used pressure from the CIA as a means to try to get them to resume being informants. But after being interrogated for about a month, they are still unwilling to cooperate. The CIA informs MI5 that the two men will soon be renditioned to Bagram, Afghanistan, to undergo more interrogation. This rendition breaches international law, since the two of them have not been charged with any crime. But MI5 does nothing to help them. [Observer, 7/29/2007] It sends a telegram to the CIA, stating, “[T]his is to confirm that in relation to the Islamists currently in detention in the Gambia, [Britain] would not seek to extend consular protection to non-British nationals.” MI5 also does not inform the rest of the British government about what is happening to the two men. [Channel 4 News (London), 7/30/2007] In Bagram, they will face further pressure to resume their informant work (see December 8, 2002-March 2003).
After 27 days of interrogations in Gambia (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002), Wahab Al-Rawi and Abdullah El-Janoudi, both British citizens, are released without charge and returned to Britain. It is reported that the British High Commissioner intervened to secure their release. Wahab’s mobile peanut oil processing company has failed as a result of his detention costing him $250,000. [Guardian, 8/4/2004] Wahab’s brother, Bisher Al-Rawi, and business partner, Jamil al-Banna, both legal British residents, will remain in US custody and end up at Guantanamo. All of them were detained in Gambia because of deliberately false information British intelligence fed the CIA, apparently as part of an elaborate scheme to get them to resume working as British informants (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]On December 8, 2002, British residents Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna are secretly flown from Gambia to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. They had been held in Gambia by the CIA after the British intelligence agency MI5 gave the CIA false information suggesting the two of them were Islamist militants. In fact, they had worked until recently as informants for MI5. In Gambia, they were pressured to resume their informant work (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). Once in Bagram, they are again pressured to be informants. The CIA asks if they will inform for them, instead of MI5. Al-Banna in particular is offered increasing sums of money and a US passport if he works for the CIA, but he refuses. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] They are initially taken to the “dark prison” near Kabul and kept in the cold in complete darkness for two weeks. Loudspeakers blare music at them 24 hours a day. Al-Rawi will later recall: “For three days or so I just sat in the corner, shivering. The only time there was light was when a guard came to check on me with a very dim torch—as soon as he’d detect movement, he would leave. I tried to do a few push-ups and jogged on the spot to keep warm. There was no toilet paper, but I tore off my nappies and tried to use them to clean myself.” After about two weeks, they are taken to the nearby Bagram prison. They are heavily abused there too, starting by beating beaten up as they arrive. The two of them had worked as go-betweens between MI5 and the radical imam Abu Qatada, and in Bagram they are heavily pressured to incriminate Abu Qatada. By this time, Abu Qatada is imprisoned in Britain and fighting deportation. [Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Banna will later tell a detainee in Guantanamo, Asif Iqbal, that Bagram was “rough” and “that he had been forced to walk around naked, coming and going from the showers, having to parade past American soldiers or guards including women who would laugh at everyone who was put in the same position.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] At no time during their detention are they permitted to see a lawyer, despite the fact that a habeas corpus petition has been filed on their behalf and is pending before British courts. In March 2003, they are sent to Guantanamo (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003; Petition for writ of habeas corpus for Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna and Martin Mubanga. Jamil el-Banna, et al. v. George Bush, et al., 7/8/2004 ]
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