12:56am Friday 30th March 2007
By Miles Godfrey
Human rights campaigners in Sussex were celebrating last night after moving a stage nearer to securing the release of a prisoner detained in Guantanamo Bay.
Foreign Secretary Margarett Beckett told the House of Commons yesterday afternoon that Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national who had been living in Surrey, is to be released from the notorious jail set up by the US authorities in the wake of the 9/11 terror atrocities.
Supporters of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes, who has also been detained in the same jail for more than four years despite having never been charged with any offence, said it now gives them hope he too may be released and said it sets an "important precedent".
Jackie Chase, from the campaign group Save Omar, said: "We really welcome the Foreign Secretary's announcement that Bisher al-Rawi can come home at last. His family must be immensely relieved.
"The statement she made in the House of Commons has very important implications for Omar's family and his supporters in Brighton.
"If she can talk to the US about the release of Mr al-Rawi, if she can have all those extensive discussions she referred to then surely she could do the same for Omar and all the British residents. It is an important precedent."
Omar's brother, Abubaker Deghayes, added: "It is good to see someone getting out of there. It is proof the British government can ease the suffering of the detainees if it wanted. There is no reason for them to suffer anymore."
The release of Mr al-Rawi, which is likely to happen during the next 24 hours, will bring the number of British residents still inside the Guantanamo Bay jail down to eight.
Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the all party committee on extraordinary rendition, called the release "wonderful news", adding: "It is scandalous that the Government has dragged its heels for so long.
"It has taken persistent pressure from Mr al-Rawi's family and members of Parliament - not to mention legal challenges - in order to get the Foreign Secretary to do what was plainly right."
Legal experts including Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer attempting to free Omar Deghayes, also believe Mr al-Rawi's release could lead to further British detainees being released.
Mr Deghayes, who has lived with his family in Brighton since the Eighties after fleeing persecution in Libya, was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorism but has never been charged with anything or faced any trials.
Bisher al-Rawi was on a business trip to Gambia when he was arrested in November 2002 for alleged terrorist links.
He was arrested with friend and business partner Jamil el-Banna, who he was travelling with, and both were handed over to US authorities and later sent to Guantanamo Bay.
The jail became notorious for its method of treating prisoners. Conditions in the jail have been described by Mr Stafford-Smith as "worse than any death row".
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