Kate Allen: Britain must act to stop this outrage

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The Independent Online

Why has the Government abandoned them? The Government's answer: they're not British - we don't feel any obligation toward them. Let other countries speak up for them.

No matter, apparently, that they have British wives or children. That they are in some cases officially recognised refugees from countries such as Libya, Iraq or Jordan, where no help is likely. And no matter that the US apparently wishes to send them back to Britain.

UK government criticism of the regime at Guantanamo has been patchy at best. Last year Tony Blair called the camp "an anomaly". Peter Hain, pinned down on a television programme, agreed that it was wrong and that, yes, he did oppose Guantanamo's existence. Charles Falconer went a step further. The camp was an "affront to democracy", he said.

Now that we are, incredibly, marking the moment that some prisoners have spent five years of their lives at Guantanamo, it's easy to forget that the UK Government defended the camp for much of this time. On the relatively rare occasions that senior politicians spoke about it, they often referred to the supposed dangerousness of the detainees. They typically downplayed or ignored the fact that the White House had barred human rights groups from this prison, suspending even minimal legal protections, pressing on regardless of the damage to international human rights agreements.

Supposing, then, that the UK Government now wishes to make up for lost time over Guantanamo, what should it do? First, it should immediately negotiate the return of Jamil el-Banna and the seven other UK residents. In the relatively unlikely event that there are criminal charges facing any of these men, they should of course be prosecuted in proper courts in the UK.

Second, the Government should stop pussyfooting around Guantanamo detentions and make it abundantly clear - in public and in private - that it strongly opposes this wholesale affront to democracy and will do everything in its power to bring about Guantanamo's closure.

Third, the Government should also unambiguously condemn all other secret "war on terror" detentions (the so-called "black site" prisoners) as well as the "rendition" flights that underpin them.

Kate Allen is the director of Amnesty International UK