23/04/2009

Some of the hundreds of people who were held by the US authorities at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba were British-based. Seven of them are starting a legal challenge to prevent the destruction of any alleged evidence of government collusion in their detention.

The BBC's Steve Swann has been speaking to several of those who were held to find out what happened when they returned home.

RHUHEL AHMED

When Rhuhel Ahmed arrived back in London in 2004 after two-and-a-half years in captivity in Guantanamo Bay he was briefly held for questioning at Paddington Green, a high security police station.

He describes how he could not take it in when he was told he was "free to go". His lawyer nudged him and said "What are you waiting for, Christmas?"

As he stepped outside for his first taste of freedom, he remembers walking up to a lamp post and touching it.

Within a few short weeks, Mr Ahmed and his two friends, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, were back home in the small West Midlands town of Tipton, where local people greeted their return by setting fire to an effigy of a figure in an orange boiler suit.

Despite such hostility, Mr Ahmed quickly set about trying to rebuild his life. Within less than a month he married his childhood sweetheart and resumed his fitness programme at his nearby gym.

Along with the other two detainees from Tipton, he took part in a feature film, The Road to Guantanamo, chronicling his experience of being arrested in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and transported to Cuba.

Although Mr Ahmed says it felt "uncomfortable opening up," he credits the film with helping him to make sense of what happened to him.

He has recently qualified as a plumber and hopes that finally he will be able to get back to work. Last year he became a father and says he does not want his daughter to grow up like him in an environment in which the only available role models were "dossers and druggies".

He credits his detention at Guantanamo with discovering Islam, which he knew little about until his arrest at the age of 18.

Mr Ahmed would like to see former leaders George Bush and Tony Blair put on trial for their part in his incarceration.

As for those who still believe he was up to no good in Afghanistan, he says: "I don't really care if people think I'm a terrorist or not. The UK government doesn't think I'm a terrorist. They've let me go and that's good enough for me. I want to move on in my life."

TAREK DERGOUL

Tarek Dergoul, who was freed at the same time as Rhuhel Ahmed, says although it is five years since his return, he is only now "starting to get back in the groove".

He still occasionally receives counselling to cope with the aftermath of the mistreatment he claims he endured. Although he still has flashbacks and periodic bouts of depression, he says that his counsellor, who is American, has helped him "get back into society".

But the former sign-writer has not worked since he returned to the UK. Partly he puts this down to his disability - he had an arm amputated after he was hurt in a US missile attack on Afghanistan after 9/11.

He claims that once in US custody in Kandahar he was interrogated whilst having a frostbitten toe removed.

His American captors accused him of having links to the al-Qaeda network but, like Rhuhel Ahmed, he was never charged or put before a military tribunal.

Looking back at his experiences in Guantanamo, the man from Mile End in London says it was "a test". Asked how he performed, he adds: "I like to think I did OKů but it's not over until it's over."

OMAR DEGHAYES


Omar Deghayes, a Libyan refugee, has been back at his home on the English south coast for just over a year.

He was held at the US facility at Guantanamo Bay for five years, accused of having trained at terror camps in Afghanistan and mistakenly said to have been photographed on jihad in Chechnya.

When he was freed and flown home he another detainee from Britain, Jamil el-Banna, were threatened with extradition to Spain to face terrorism charges there but the case was dropped.

Mr Deghayes, who had been training to become a lawyer before he says he travelled to Afghanistan to see first-hand what the Taleban was doing, is now helping out a legal practice in the hope of eventually resurrecting his legal career.

"America's forefathers were thinking of a land of liberty, justice and democracy," he says. "And Guantanamo Bay has become a symbol that betrays all these things they formed the country for."

He is part of a civil action brought by seven men from Britain who were detained at Guantanamo, claiming compensation for injuries they say they suffered.

He and the other claimants allege the authorities in Britain contributed to mistreatment.

But despite this legal action, Mr Deghayes says his main aim is to be reunited with his Afghan wife and seven-year-old son, neither of whom he has seen since his arrest in Lahore in early 2002.

Cageprisoners.com - serving the caged prisoners in Guantanamo Bay