Guantanamo should close, says Attorney General

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The American prison complex at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has become an international symbol of injustice and should be closed, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, says.

His remarks - which risk straining the Labour Government's relationship with Washington - went beyond anything said by Tony Blair. The Prime Minister has described Guantanamo many times as an "anomaly" but almost always adds that its creation is the fault of the terrorists who committed the 11 September atrocities.

"The existence of Guantanamo Bay remains unacceptable," Lord Goldsmith said yesterday. "It is time, in my view, that it should close. Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many - right or wrong - of injustice. The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol."

The Attorney General's remarks - in a detailed and carefully written speech on international terrorism - is the most authoritative call yet from a British politician for the civil rights of the 500 Guantanamo detainees to be restored. Two other ministers - the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, and the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells - have also said that Guantanamo should close, but only when asked direct questions.

Speaking last night to the Royal United Services Institute, Lord Goldsmith also said that some of the steps taken by the Government to counter terrorism had been "very controversial". They included introducing control orders restricting the movement of suspects who cannot be brought to trial because of insufficient evidence. Lord Goldsmith denied this is a form of house arrest.

The head of Amnesty International, Kate Allen, said: "The real test is if the Government is prepared to put serious pressure on the US administration to see that the camp is closed and that all prisoners are released to safe countries or brought before proper courts."

The director of the human rights group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said: "The plugging of this 'legal black hole' will mean nothing if it is replaced by other secret Guantanamos all over the world."