There are many other Guantanamo prisoners

Muslims find something repellent about fighting only for the rights of nine British suspects and not the 671 born in 42 other nations
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The Independent Online

So Mr Bush is prepared to make some concessions over the trials of the two British Muslim captives held in Guantanamo Bay, although it still looks as if he will refrain from sending back the "bad men", as he calls them, to Britain for trial, as our press would like and fair play would demand. For the families of Moazzam Begg, 35 and a father of young children, and Feroz Abbassi, 23, if the two were tried in the UK instead of by secret US military tribunals with the power to pass the death sentence, their return would provide some hope after months of unimaginable terror and bewilderment. If I was a parent or partner of these prisoners, now held for 18 months, I would probably be deranged by now.

But for most Muslims around the world, including me, there is something repellent about fighting only for the rights of the nine British suspects while leaving the other 671 inmates - from children to the elderly - who, rotten luck, happen to have been born in 42 nations which can or will do nothing to fight for justice for their citizens. In that sense there really is an Ummah, a fine thread which links our hearts across space and time and which pulls us up emotionally when we watch obvious injustices against other Muslims.

It is not only Muslims, though, who reject the British and American post-11 September policies. There are people of conscience in America - the actors Tim Robbins and his wife Susan Sarandon, for example - who publicly criticise Bush and Co even though they are reviled for this. The British and American governments (and the other lackeys, Australia, Spain and Poland) have lost credibility among most decent people in the Third World and the fair-minded in Europe. They abhor the unlawful invasion of Iraq and the Camp Delta outrage and the lack of real concern about what has been going on in that scorching, secret hell where screams are unheard by anyone except other captives and guards.

As Harold Pinter asked recently: "What real objections have there been to Guantanamo Bay? At this very moment 700 people are chained, padlocked, handcuffed, hooded and treated like animals in a concentration camp."

An Algerian captive, Mustafa Idr (quoted in Time magazine), wrote to his wife: "I have been in this place day by day without knowing why I am here." Can you imagine how that feels? The endless solitary confinements, lights being on all the time, hunger strikes, 30 suicide attempts, rumours of mental breakdowns, no media scrutiny to speak of, should make us revolt.

In Iraq, too, the captured scientists and civil servants undergoing secret interrogations by the US have no independent observers. But we shake hands with the US and talk of an unbreakable union between our nations.

Let us conjure up a parallel scenario, say in South Africa. There are still many extremist white groups in that country who want their Apartheid back. Say they blew up three crowded buildings in Johannesburg, killing 2,000 tourists and black, brown and white South Africans. Say, President Thabo Mbeki rounded up all known groups and suspected sympathisers, bound, gagged them and transported them to the middle of the Kalahari desert for months, to undergo interrogation with no access to due process. Then, say, he announced that he was going to take no notice of the Geneva conventions or other namby-pamby stuff and he castigated the effete hand-wringers who worried too much about the rights of terrorists, when everyone knew they were the only people held in his camps.

Would we, the British, accept that? Or would we condemn such "punishments" as yet more evidence of the barbarisms of Africans? The very thought of, even guilty, white men burning slowly under the ruthless sun and denied justice would be intolerable. Proven Nazi war criminals were never denied their basic entitlements to this extent (and there have been moral debates about this ever since) and yet today these Muslim men - some guilty, others not - are left unprotected because the Americans have decided (with the collusion of our Government) that they can do as they please.

Scandalously, the US media is so supine that even the most progressive outlets have fallen largely into line. I find it astonishing that The New York Times was traumatised enough to have their top editors resign because a maverick reporter fabricated stories and yet the liberal media has not crucified the US government for violating the principles of justice and civilisation itself. And the good name of the American constitution.

Sometimes I try and imagine the conversations that actually go on between the powerful in the world today, in their grandiose rooms with paintings of other past political manipulators on their walls. As they sip on fine wines and decline canapés, what do George Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan and Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Straw and Geoffrey Hoon (who sounds ever more as if he is a military machine and not human at all), what do they really say they believe? Do they laugh as they plot new ways of misleading Muslims, of bullying poor African and other countries, and provide the aid and lies which will clear the paths to their ever-growing megalomania?

They obviously share the view that the world is theirs for the taking and making. Ethics, morality, history, even faith are used and abused to justify their positions and ambitions. And they obviously think that they can get away with this, even today when new technology is galvanising global citizens and informing them of truths once effectively hidden and when inalienable human rights are understood and claimed by the poorest around the world.

The world is not theirs for the taking and making. The most impecunious and most disempowered have ways of destabilising the good lives of those who thought they had it all for ever more. And billions no longer accept that there is one rule for the US and its allies and another for the rest.

The formidable secretary general of Amnesty, Irene Khan, recently criticised the US for its "new doctrine of human rights à la carte". She said, and she is absolutely right, that in this the US is in danger of promoting the idea that arbitrary, unchallenged detention is acceptable. Any number of inhumane regimes - Islamist ones included - will embrace the new licence to torture and imprison without sanctions. That is the new democracy; they all want to be like America. And America will have no moral authority to stop them. Nor will Blair, even with his pious hat and moistening eyes.

As a report, Human Rights after September 11, by the International Council on Human Rights in Geneva, warns: "Hypocrisy matters because it is profoundly more difficult to promote the values of human rights if publics are cynical and some governments either circumvent international human rights law or exempt themselves from standards they seek to impose on others."

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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