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The case for closing Guantanamo is overwhelming
Leader
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.

USA: Amnesty welcomes UN call to close Guantánamo Bay – but it is tip of iceberg

Press release, 16/02/2006

Amnesty International welcomes today’s United Nations report calling for the closure of the US military detention centre at Guantánamo Bay and urges governments, human rights defenders and its members around the world to send a clear message to the US government that it is time for Guantánamo to go.

The UN experts also concluded that interrogation techniques authorized for use at the facility violate the Convention against Torture; that international human rights law is applicable to the facility and that the US is obliged to either bring the detainees to trial under US law or release them.

Susan Lee, Director of Amnesty International’s Americas Programme said: "The report confirms concerns which AI has repeatedly raised with the US government. We have consistently called for the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay to be closed. The US can no longer make the case, morally or legally, for keeping it open.”

Guantánamo Bay is just the tip of the iceberg. The United States also operates detention facilities at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and has been implicated in the use of secret detention facilities in other countries, also known as 'black sites'.

All these facilities, including Guantánamo Bay, must be opened to independent scrutiny. All detainees should have access to the courts and should be treated humanely. These are basic principles that cannot be overridden even in time of war or national emergency.

To date the US has rejected any independent inquiry into its overseas detention facilities, nor has Washington been prepared to cooperate with a Council of Europe investigation into 'rendition' of terrorism suspects.

The selective disregard for international law by the United States in the context of the 'war on terror' has enormous influence over the rest of the world. When the US commits serious human rights violations it sends a signal to abusive governments that these practices are permissible. This is why Guantánamo Bay is so important: it tells other governments that they can commit human rights violations in the name of counter-terrorism too.

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