Lord Goldsmith: Britain must help out on Guantanamo

This is no time to wash our hands of the problem of prisoners with nowhere to go

Share
Related Topics

The debate over the wisdom or otherwise of the UK Government's decision not to disclose documents in the Binyam Mohamed case is important but risks sliding into ever more complex arguments about competing matters of public interest. On the one hand, last week's High Court ruling was clearly significant. In deliberating over how to strike a balance between the interests of national security and those of public scrutiny, and the importance of the open and public administration of justice, their decision will engage constitutional lawyers for some time.

That the High Court finally agreed – with some apparent regret – with the Foreign Secretary in believing the preservation of a fully functioning intelligence-sharing relationship between theUK and US outweighed the necessity to make public information about alleged torture is, I have to say, probably right (though there are now questions which need to be resolved about just what the concerns were).

However, poring over the finer detail of a document disclosure case (one in which the relevant documents have actually long since been made available to Binyam Mohamed's defence counsel) is in one sense a distraction. The big issue – for Binyam Mohamed and some 240 other detainees – is the earliest possible closure of Guantanamo and a resolution of their unacceptable incarceration there. And increasingly, what's required to achieve this goal is an international coalition of governments willing to assist in its closure.

President Barack Obama's much-publicised intention to bring about Guantanamo's closure is extremely welcome, but I fear an unhelpful attitude from European governments, including the UK, may yet hinder this aim.

As is now well known, the mechanics of closing Guantanamo are actually very complicated. An estimated 60 prisoners can't be forced to return to their home countries where they are ones with a clear record of persecuting political opponents – countries like China and Uzbekistan. Of course the US should be expected to take some and prosecute those against whom there is evidence of known crime. Others can return to their own homes. But it is unlikely that a full and quick shutdown will happen without international help.

For a long time US officials have talked of the need for "co-operation" from third countries in settling these cases. For men caught between a rock and hard place, the hope has been that countries would come forward to offer "humanitarian protection", some quasi-refugee status granted in a spirit of problem solving. Ireland, Portugal and other countries have made positive noises. Others, notably the Dutch, have shrugged and said "it's a US-made problem, let them deal with it".

I understand that attitude but it won't do. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Guantanamo the US was originally responding to an international terrorist threat as well as the need to bring people to justice for killing nearly 3,000 people on 11 September 2001. The means were wrong but the cause was right and past international critics of America's actions should now do what they can to undo the knot of illegality and shoddy malpractice that traps those still caged at Guantanamo. What's more, the camp's continued existence damages us too: as a symbol of the West's injustice and a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. It's our problem too.

It's a spirit of enlightened pragmatism that is needed from European capitals now. At a recent EU meeting, foreign ministers failed to agree a common approach to humanitarian protection of at-risk prisoners and David Miliband has been less than forthcoming with offers of UK help. The UK would take two former residents of this country (Binyam Mohamed and a man called Shaker Aamer) but no one else, was his message.

On top of the question of whether the UK Government should be looking harder at the case of individual prisoners claiming UK links, there is the wider question of why the Government is adopting this unhelpful attitude at just the moment when this country can help effect change and end what Amnesty International rightly calls a "travesty of justice"?

As long ago as 2006 Albania provided a safe haven to some of the Uighurs from Guantanamo with nowhere else to go. Other nations are certain to come forward soon and this is not the time for Britain to stand back, washing its hands of a problem made in the USA but almost certainly solvable only through international co-operation.

The author was Attorney General, 2001-7

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?