Guantánamo guard held at Heathrow
Outspoken critic of US policy was due to address prisoner support group
The Observer, Sunday 30 August 2009
A former Guantánamo guard who had flown to the UK to address a support group for inmates of the camp is to be deported back to the US this morning after being denied entry on arrival at Heathrow airport yesterday.
Terry Holdbrooks, who has been an outspoken critic of the US government over the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, said that immigration officials told him he was being refused entry because he was unemployed and living in rented accommodation in the US, raising suspicions he would not leave the UK. The former soldier, who converted to Islam after discussions with prisoners at Guantánamo, was due to address a meeting tonight by Cageprisoners, a support group that had paid for his ticket.
Holdbrooks told the Observer that he had also been detained and questioned by US airport officials on Thursday, as he attempted to complete the first stage of his journey by air via Arizona and Minnesota.
"I will never come back to Britain after this," Holdbrooks told the Observer by phone from Heathrow, where he was being detained, and prevented from collecting his luggage.
"The UK has been an ally of the US, but has not been an active participant in some of the things the US had been doing. I've changed my attitude after this. I was just taken aside after I arrived, I had my bags searched, and was asked repeatedly like, 'did I have a girlfriend?' and 'did I rent?' "
Holdbrooks, who left the US military in 2005, describes himself as a writer who also earns money from speaking at public engagements.
On Friday he had been due to take part in an event organised by Reprieve, which campaigns for prisoners' rights and is suing the British government over its alleged role in the rendition of individuals who were also allegedly tortured. A lawyer was last night attempting to intervene on his behalf.
Clive Stafford-Smith, Reprieve's director, said he had called immigration officials at Heathrow to protest and told them that Holdbrooks was coming to Britain for "a clearly appropriate purpose".
"I said this would not look good, as we were in the middle of litigation against the UK government, and this would look like vindictiveness," said Stafford-Smith.
Holdbrooks, who worked at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004, has spoken in interviews about degrading and sometimes sadistic acts against prisoners committed by soldiers, medics and interrogators at Guantánamo. He has also spoken of his conversion to Islam in the presence of a former British prisoner at the camp, Ahmed Errachidi, who was said to have been known by Guantánamo guards as "the General".
A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency said last night: "Visitors to the UK need to meet the requirements of our immigration rules.
"For example, they must provide financial evidence that they can support themselves for the duration of the trip without recourse to public funds or employment, and satisfy the entry clearance officer that they intend to leave the UK at the end of the visit."