Sunday February 26, 2006
More than four years after the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay opened, the range of voices calling for it to close is widening. Overseas, it runs from the Democrat former US President Jimmy Carter, through UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to the conservative Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Here, advocates of closure now include the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, the Liberal Democrats and numerous members of the higher judiciary.
Last week, the Commons foreign affairs committee urged the government to make its opposition
to Guantanamo 'loud and public', describing the camp as 'outside all legal regimes'; it both
diminished America's moral authority and hindered its fight against terrorism, said the committee.
The Prime Minister has declined to go further than previously when he described Guantanamo as an
'anomaly'. He prefers to make his objections known in private, he has said.
Tony Blair's reticence
is understandable, particularly given the importance he places on the transatlantic alliance. But the
case for voicing a stronger opposition is becoming overwhelming. When Guantanamo opened in January 2002,
the US leadership said that it was the place for the deadliest al-Qaeda terrorists. In the words of Vice
President Dick Cheney: 'These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted
to killing millions of ordinary Americans and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.'
We now know that is not true.
Some captured individuals do fit Mr Cheney's description. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, the principal architects of 9/11; Hambali, al-Qaeda's boss in south east Asia and the planner of the 2002 bombing in Bali; Abu Zubaydah, the terrorist organisation's operations chief, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is believed to have led the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. But none has ever been near Guantanamo Bay. They are held instead, also without trial, in the secret network of 'black site' prisons run by the CIA.
In fact, according to a recent academic study, later published in the prestigious US National Law Journal, only 8 per cent of Guantanamo inmates can be characterised as 'al-Qaeda fighters', while 55 per cent 'are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies'. The figures and categories are the Pentagon's own.
More worrying, the vast majority of detainees were not captured by US forces but by Afghan or Pakistani groups at a time when America was offering bounties of $5,000 for any prisoner accused of terrorism.
Furthermore, of the 8 per cent deemed to be al-Qaeda, most deny the charges, many collected from confessions through abusive interrogation. But as with all the Guantanamo inmates, none has yet been afforded any legal process to challenge them, nor to confront the secret evidence used to justify their indefinite detention. On this basis, they remain incarcerated in tiny cells where they stay except during interrogations and 20-minute exercise periods two or three times a week, denied all contact with their families, and force-fed through nasal tubes if they seek to end their ordeal through hunger strike.
This is a grave breach of international law and human rights. It is difficult to see how the harm done to America's image, and the outrage inspired throughout the Muslim world, can have been outweighed by any harvest of intelligence. Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Lord Falconer are right. Guantanamo should close and our Prime Minister should stand behind such a call.