In June a delegation from the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission visited the Foreign Office. We presented a petition signed by former Archbishop Desmond Tutu with more than 5,000 other signatures. We drew the Government's attention to a recent interview in which Tareq Dergoul described how the interrogation and beatings which he sustained in Guantanamo from the Emergency Reaction Force were regularly recorded on camera.
"Will the British Government now investigate these reports of abuse and torture of its citizens in Guantanamo?" we asked. "Will it demand that all recordings of violence against its citizens be made available for inspection? Will it study these recordings and the evidence of abuse that has been given by Tarek Dergoul, Jamal al-Harith, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul with a view to seeking prosecution of those responsible?"
A month later I received a reply from the Minister of State, Baroness Symons. "The US," she said, "is examining in detail allegations made by some of the five British detainees who have returned to the UK. I understand that they intend to respond to them fully." As for Britain, "No other Government has taken more interest in the welfare of its nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay."
Actually, it is doubtful if HM Government would win such a competition. Seven consular visits, ostensibly for welfare purposes, have been tainted by the presence of MI6. What, actually, has the Government achieved? The welcome return of five detainees in March was not brought about by government pressure so much as by a confluence of international outrage with the US government's need to loosen the pressure coming from the Supreme Court. Other countries, including Pakistan, have had more detainees released. Tony Blair's personal letter to Bush requesting the return of the four remaining British nationals was not so much written in good faith, rather to frustrate a case from solicitors Christian Kahn from coming into court.
The bitter truth is that this Government has not a single unqualified achievement on behalf of its citizens to boast of, except the belated introduction of a window in Moazzam Begg's solitary confinement. And if that is an achievement, as Moazzam Begg's father Azmat sorrowfully reflected, one must measure it against the realisation that for months Moazzam, in his solitary confinement in Camp Echo, has seen no natural light at all.
Our delegation to the Foreign Office made one very specific, urgent request. Azmat Begg asked the FO to expedite a permit from the US for himself, Dr James Mackeith, a forensic psychologist, and a medical doctor with experience of torture cases to visit Moazzam in Guantanamo. Detainees who have been released have spoken of their concern for Moazzam's state of mind, and for Tamil al Banna, a British resident who was granted indefinite leave to remain here, and, being Palestinian, was a stateless refugee. Mr Begg has received no letter from his son for months. A Foreign Office report, following a visit in March, described his condition as "withdrawn".
I know Azmat Begg quite well. I have stood with him on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington as he read aloud his appeal to President Bush, while hailstones battered our umbrellas. Azmat is from a long line of officers who served the British Army. He is the father we would all wish for if we were in trouble. I could not conceive how this Government, any government, presented with his simple request, which in common humanity cries out to be granted, would not strain every nerve to see it fulfilled. I was wrong.
Why can't they do something so simple and so absolutely necessary? True, the US has turned down requests to visit from many quarters including the American National Council of Churches. For all visits they require security clearances. But Australia demanded and got permission for David Hicks' lawyer Steve Kelly to visit, with a security clearance from Canberra. Why cannot Whitehall do the same?
Our Government stands accused of complicity in torture. The document released by the Tipton detainees and their lawyers shows why. But the worst torture is internment without trial. It drives men mad. Mr Blunkett knows this because that is what he has done to detainees in Belmarsh. He has been on the losing side in British courts, arguing for continued detention of men who have lost their minds.
I hope and pray that this is not so for Moazzam Begg. But Mr Begg needs and deserves reassurance. So does Mrs Al Banna. So do we all. Let us all petition the Foreign Office to grant Mr Begg his request.
The writer is currently appearing as King Lear in Stratford