Feroz Abbasi is one of nine British men who were held in extrajudicial detention in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba. Five were repatriated in March 2004, and released by the British government the next day. He was released from detention on 25 January 2005 along with Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar. Abbasi's Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 24. The Department of Defense reports that he was born on October 29, 1979 in Entebbe, Uganda.
Abbasi moved to Britain with his mother Zumrati Juma, a social worker, and family when he was eight. They lived in Croydon, South London. Abbasi attended Edenham High School in Shirley, Croydon, gaining good GCSE grades. He is said to have been a well-behaved and conscientious school pupil, interested in roller blading and Michael Jackson. He took his A-levels at John Ruskin College (1996–1998) and enrolled in a two-year computing course at Nescot College in Epsom, which he did not finish. He started traveling.
Abbasi was brought up a Muslim but had stopped attending his local mosque when he was twelve. His interest in Islam was apparently rekindled after he was mugged at 19 on his first trip abroad to Geneva and met a Kashmiri refugee there.
After his return, he began to attend the moderate local mosque in Croydon. He became more fervent, becoming involved with and in spring 2000 moving into the radical Finsbury Park mosque. There he helped set up a website for a militant Islamic group. Because his half-brother and half-sister had a Christian father, he stopped talking to the family and eventually disappeared. The family last saw him in 2000, as he was preparing to leave for Afghanistan.
Nothing more was known about him until Abbasi was reportedly detained in December 2001, in Kunduz in the north of the country.
Allegations and internment
The US government alleged that Abbasi attended four separate al-Qaeda training courses from January to August 2001 at the Al Farouq training camp, near Kandahar, and also at the nearby camp, Ubaida. He was taught urban warfare, assassination techniques, intelligence collection and surveillance. They allege that he volunteered to participate in suicide operations and met Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, three times. He was alleged to have fought with al-Qaeda and Taliban forces against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. When he was captured by the Afghan Northern Alliance, they claim he had hand grenades strapped to his legs and was carrying a military radio. He was handed over to US forces. They referred to him as "the SAS guy" in reference to his extensive training, and shipped him to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2002.
His mother and his lawyers argue that Abbasi is one of a small group of idealistic young Muslim men who found themselves caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. She has said she is worried for his mental welfare and, by his release, had not heard from him since late-2003. British officials last saw him at Guantanamo in April 2003.
In November 2002 the British Court of Appeal said it found his detention at Guantanamo "legally objectionable", but stopped short of forcing the government to intervene on his behalf. In 2003, the US Government announced that Abbasi would be one of the prisoners facing charges before a military tribunal, although it was announced that he would not face the death penalty if convicted. In mid-November 2004, the press reported that the Britons in Guantanamo Bay "expect to face charges within six weeks". No charges were laid against them.
On 28 January 2005, after Abbasi's release, the US authorities released to the BBC further details of their allegations, as well as a statement allegedly written by Abbasi. It was a handwritten autobiography whilst in detention. He describes his anguish and low self-esteem before he left England. He outlines how a jihad group works and describes his training and use of weapons. But, Abbasi's lawyer has confirmed that he claims to have been tortured; as a result, the statement could not be used in a British court as evidence.
His mother, his Member of Parliament (MP) Geraint Davies, and human rights lawyers and organisations worked against the US internment and military tribunal process. They also called on the British government to put greater pressure on their US counterparts to improve the tribunal process, detention conditions, and access for the family and lawyers. The British government pressured the US to release its citizens, reportedly leading to a slight rift between the two countries.
On Monday 11 January 2005, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that the four Britons in Guantanamo Bay: Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga, Richard Belmar and Feroz Abbasi, would be returned to Britain "within weeks" after "intensive and complex discussions" with the US government. Although they were still regarded as "enemy combatants" by the US government, no specific charges had been brought against any of them.
On 25 January 2005, Abbasi, along with the three other British citizens, was flown back to the United Kingdom by an RAF aircraft. On arrival they were arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken to Paddington Green Police Station for questioning under the Terrorism Act 2000. By 9pm the next day, 26 January, all four had been released without charge.
The BBC learned on 15 February 2005 that Abbasi and Martin Mubanga had received letters from the British Government telling them that they would not be allowed passports. Using the Royal Prerogative for the first time since 1976, the government withdrew the passports for the time being due to evidence gathered against them by the US. This suggested they were likely to take part in action against UK or allied targets if they left Britain. It was unclear whether the evidence was gathered in Guantanamo, where their lawyer has alleged Abbasi and Mubanga suffered torture, or whether this measure was part of the conditions agreed with the US government for their release.
Transcripts from hearing
On 4 March 2006, following a Freedom of Information Act request from the Associated Press, 5000 pages of information were released containing the names and home countries of many detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Amongst this documentation is a transcript of the hearing at which Feroz Abbasi was present. Mr. Abbasi's session, begins on page one of this PDF file.
Feroz Abbasi asked: "May I have my legal representative present please?"
The tribunal president, a USAF colonel (whose name has been blacked out in the document) replied: "No you may not. This is not a legal proceeding. It is a military tribunal."
Feroz Abbasi continued: "On the basis that the tribunal can actually hold me here in incarceration or release me, I would consider this a criminal proceeding."
Feroz Abbasi (reading): "AKA Malcolm X. I am not anti-American and I did not come here to condemn America. I want to make that very clear. I came here to tell the truth and if the truth condemns America, then she stands condemned...(inaudible) The sun rising is splendour. A notice. It is my duty as a Muslim to warn all who are involved in this matter that they are personally responsible for their actions at all times before Allah. Allah says in this uncreated word that is the Koran. Is the man who believes no better than the man who is rebellious and wicked? Not equal are they. For those who believe and do righteous deeds are gardeners as hospitable homes for their good deeds. As to those who are rebellious or wicked their abode will be the fire. Every time they wish to get away from there they will be forced there into and it will be said to them, Take ye the penalty of the fire which ye will want to reject as false. And indeed we will make them taste of the penalty of this life prior to the supreme penalty in order that they may repent and return. And who does more wrong than one to whom are recited the signs of his lord and who turns away there from. Vary from those who transgress we will exact due retribution. Chapter 32 Al Sajdah, verses 18-22."
Abbasi continues quoting from the Koran.
The president says he: "appreciates your concern for our souls".
Following Abbasi's concerns about his classification from the point of Islamic law, the tribunal president states: "This is not Islamic law. It has no authority here."
Abbasi then repeatedly brings up his status under international law. The tribunal president says:
After repeated references to international law by Abbasi, the tribunal president states:
"I don't care about international law. I don't want to hear the word international law again."
Abbasi also asked to be treated as a prisoner of war and declared he would be humbled to be regarded as a combatant, stating:
"Do not be fooled into thinking I am in any way perturbed by you classifying me as a (nonsensical) 'enemy combatant'. In fact quite to the contrary I am humbled that Allah would honour me so."
Abbasi admitted attending an Al Qaeda training camp visited by Osama Bin Laden:
"Yes, I was present at the very speech when with his own mouth and tongue he told Basic Training that he had received a fax from the Americans!".
According to the article, his transcript contained the following exchange:
- Abbasi: So, you are telling me I am an enemy combatant. I am telling you by special Geneva Conventions, I am a non-combatant….
- Tribunal president: Once again, international law does not matter here. Geneva Convention does not matter here. What matters here and I am concerned about and what I really want to get to is your status as enemy combatant based upon the evidence that has been provided and your actions while you were in Afghanistan. If you deviate from that one more time you will be removed from this tribunal and we will continue to hear evidence without you being present….
- Abbasi: I know, but I have the right to speak….
- Tribunal president: No, you don’t.
- Abbasi: And the personal representative told me I can say whatever I like.
- 'Tribunal president: He was mistaken if he told you that….
- [Abbasi continues to speak at length.]
- Tribunal president:Once again…international law…. [Abbasi interrupts.] Mr. Abbasi, your conduct is unacceptable and this is your absolute final warning. I don't care about international law. I don’t want to hear the words “international law” again. We are not concerned with international law.
In January 2012, Abbasi talked to The Observer about his life since his release. He was finding it difficult to get back to ordinary life.
- Begg, Moazzam. Enemy Combatant, 2006
- "No Execution For Brit Suspects", CBS News, July 23, 2003
- "Guantanamo Britons are still a threat, says Blair", The Telegraph, November 14, 2004
- Summarized transcripts (.pdf), from Feroz Abbasi's Combatant Status Review Tribunal - pages 1-9
- Guantanamo: Anatomy of a hearing, BBC, March 4, 2006
- "Why Am I in Cuba?", Mother Jones (magazine), July 12, 2006
- "Britain's Guantánamo survivors are suffering a toxic legacy". The Observer. 1 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
- Report on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. (Abbasi) Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas University of California, Davis
- Vikram Dodd, Tania Branigan (January 12, 2005). "Health fears for 'torture victims'". The Guardian.