Guantanamo, anti-terrorism legislation - War on terror: war on rights

Submitted by Anon on 23 March, 2004 - 8:56

By Rosalind Robson

It will be a long time before the full truth emerges about the penal camps on the US military base at Guantanamo Bay - if indeed the truth ever does emerge. Despite nearly 100 releases so far, as many as 660 men are still being held in conditions of near secrecy.
Some of the truth about what is happening to these people the US government styles as "enemy combatants" has been leaked out by visiting journalists.

A lot more will be pieced together for us with the testimony of the five British detainees released recently, after police and military agencies admitted they had no evidence to connect them with al-Qaida. These individuals have endured 26 months of hellish incarceration, along with four more Britons still being held in at Guantanamo.

Three of those released - Shafiq Rasul, Ruhal Ahmed and Asif Iqbal - are from the town of Tipton where the BNP has a base, and they now fear being attacked by fascists. They were interviewed by the Observer newspaper on 14 March.

The three were handed over to the US authorities in Afghanistan after being rounded up by the Northern Alliance, but not before they had endured transportation in lorry containers in which most other prisoners suffocated. The Northern Alliance is said to have actually sold prisoners to the US.

In the Observer the men spoke of reaching Cuba and enduring further cramped conditions, long-term 24-hour solitary confinement, forced confessions, extreme intimidation and beatings.

From the men's account it is clear that the UK authorities - despite the Government claiming that they have tried to ensure fair treatment for British detainees - collaborated with the US military in their handling of the men. MI5 officers interrogated the men.

One of the men, Jamal Udeen, was interviewed by Martin Bashir on ITV. Release has brought him mixed emotions: joy and anger, the fact of his being released with no charge underlining the injustice of him being held in the first place.

Why have the men been released now? Because even the US could not justify their further incarceration? The US had held onto them for 26 months because Guantanamo is part of a political operation - part of a propaganda battle - that had to be seen to succeed.

But in this case even the interrogations became farcical. Rasul explained to the Observer: "About two months ago one guy asked me, 'If I wanted to get hold of surface-to-air missiles in Tipton, where would I go?'"

US justice? No justice. British justice? No justice.

When and if the "enemy combatants" remaining in Cuba come to trial they will do so under the terms of a special military commission. The details of those commissions will be in the hands of the US deputy secretary of defence, currently Paul Wolfowitz, who will choose the judges and the prosecutor, and draw up the charge sheet. He will also appoint the three-person panel to which convicted parties may appeal. He will examine their recommendations and take the final decision.

The sanction for anyone found guilty-except Britons-can include the death sentence.

Rightly so, the US government has faced fierce criticism over the Guantanamo camps.

The detainees were not protected by the terms of the Geneva Convention, and, at first, not by the US civilian legal system. They have after legal challenges in the US now won some rights to legal representation.

Last November the Pentagon announced the forthcoming release of 100-140 detainees - that has yet to happen. A number of cases are due to be heard in the US Supreme Court over the legality of the detentions and of the US's "war on terror".

But the British government also is guilty of infringing basic rights. Under anti-terrorism legislation - the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 - Britain has the power to detain indefinitely foreigners suspected of involvement in terrorism if they cannot be safely deported to their home country. Home Secretary David Blunkett wants to extend this legislation to allow for the locking up of UK citizens in this way. There is a review process in the cases of foreign-born detainees under the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC). However, the Commission is not a court of law. The "accused" is not allowed to hear the evidence against him or her if it is deemed too "sensitive", and in that case a specially appointed advocate must stand in for them.

Brian Barder was a lay representative on SIAC and he has recently resigned on the grounds that he did not want to participate in a body which administered a system of incarceration without trial - something that contravenes all international human rights law.

To get around the European Convention on Human Rights the government had to declare a "state of emergency" in Britain to enact this legislation. A state of emergency, according to the European Convention, is "an exceptional situation of crisis or emergency which affects the whole of the population and constitutes a threat to the organised life of the community". That does not describe the situation Britain was in at the time (aftermath of the terror attacks of 9/11), and it does not even describe the situation now.

The kind of "clipped" and (in the case of Guantanamo) obliterated legal process as a response of any government to a terrorist threat is always likely to involve a gross attack on civil liberties. But it is not a credible response to the threat: locking up this or that individual or even very many individuals is a way of being seen to be "tough" or "fighting the war", but it will not undermine terrorist groups or stop their recruitment. It is hardly going to stop the flows of money and arms that come from big businesses in the Middle East in places like Saudi Arabia - places which the UK still wants to do business with. And it will end in innocent people being detained and punished unjustly.

Camp Delta eyewitness

"Visiting journalists are kept away from the high security blocks and can only glimpse prisoners in Camp 4, the residence of those who cooperate. Journalists are not allowed to talk to them or reply to their shoutsÂ…

"Before 11 September 2001 and the war in Afghanistan, the base was in serious decline; since then it has constantly expanded. Its military and civilian population has tripled and is now more than 6,000Â…

"Camp Delta, which is split into four quarters, can house 1,000 people. It is surrounded by several metal fences covered by green nylon and topped with electrified barbed wire. The prisoners, whose cells remain lit all night long, are under constant surveillance by guards who patrol or are posted in watchtowersÂ…

"32 suicide attempts by 21 prisoners have been logged. 110 detainees (one in six) are under observation for psychological disorders; 25 are receiving psychiatric treatment. When we visited, another prisoner, who has been on hunger-strike on and off for a year, had been committed and was being fed intravenously.

"In at least three of the four camps, the conditions of detention are distressing. There are two blocks of 48 cells in two rows of 24, each cell barely two by 2.5 metres. The metal mesh walls and doors prevent privacy. The routine is only broken by a solitary 20-minute walk in a large cage on a cement floor; and, three times a week, by a five-minute shower. Before each transfer, prisoners are handcuffed and also fitted with foot restraints linked by chains.

"We were shown Camp Iguana, a bungalow on a cliff overlooking the sea and surrounded by a metal security fence. For more than a year, this is where three 13- to 15-year old "enemy juvenile combatants" have been locked up. We were told they take English classes, play soccer and are allowed a few videos. But it's impossible to see them or even to find out their nationalities.

"Camp X-Ray was originally built to enclose the most turbulent Haitian boat people, and even people with Aids; now overgrown by thick vegetation, it has been abandoned. Camp Delta will soon follow it into ruin: a Camp 5 is being constructed, with the first phase due by July 2004. It will be a solid-walled prison to take about 100, is meant for detainees finally convicted by the military commissions and will include an execution chamber."

  • From a report by Augusta Conchiglia in Le Monde Diplomatique, Jan 2004

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