Second law lord criticises detentions at Guantanamo Bay

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The Independent Online

A second law lord is to question US policy over the detention of 660 terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Lord Hope of Craighead, one of the country's senior judges, will tell an audience of lawyers and academics tonight that the men are being held in a place beyond the rule of law without the protection of any court.

He will warn them not to let "the smiling charming faces of our American allies divert us from seeking to discover the reality of what is being done by their interrogators."

Last year, Lord Steyn, another of the 12 members of the judicial committee of the House of Lords, spoke out against the detention when he described Guantanamo Bay as a "monstrous failure of justice" and the military tribunals that will try suspects as kangaroo courts.

His intervention was quickly seized upon by the families of the nine British detainees because it broke with judicial protocol that prevents judges from making public comments on live political issues.

Lord Hope does not go as far as Lord Steyn but he does say "it is no understatement to say the detainees are at the victors' mercy". In a lecture on the history of torture, jointly organised by international law firm Clifford Chance and Essex University, Lord Hope asks: "How can we expect to eliminate torture elsewhere if there is no sure way of knowing whether or not it has been practised at Guantanamo Bay by the Americans?"

He adds: "We can assume that whatever has been done and is being done to the prisoners has and is being done with the cold and ruthless efficiency that characterises the actions of officials who are determined to obtain results and whose actions are not subjection to international inspection or to the control of any independent judicial authority."

He argues that people have every right to be suspicious about the conditions under which the detainees are being held because the outside world has no means of testing American assurances that "all appropriate measures" are used in their interrogation.

Nine Britons and three British residents are among the 660 people who have been held at the American naval base in Cuba for more than two years without charge or access to lawyers.

In recent weeks the Americans signalled they are ready to repatriate European suspects if given assurances that they will be properly managed by the police when they return to their communities.

But the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that such restrictions would have to comply with British law, making such a condition impossible to enforce.

Lawyers argue that, since there is no offence with which they could be charged, because no admissible evidence was gathered at the time of their capture, they would be freed upon arrival in Britain.