The return of the last British detainees will not end the disgrace of Guantanamo

Share
Related Topics

In hailing the announcement that the four British detainees remaining at Guantanamo are to be released in the coming weeks, we can only echo the response from the men's lawyers and from Amnesty International: the news is thoroughly welcome - but long, long overdue. That the men are to be released without appearing before one of the deeply suspect US military tribunals may be a result of what the Foreign Secretary described yesterday as "intensive and complex discussions" between officials of both countries. Equally, however, it may also reflect the lack of any compelling evidence against them.

In hailing the announcement that the four British detainees remaining at Guantanamo are to be released in the coming weeks, we can only echo the response from the men's lawyers and from Amnesty International: the news is thoroughly welcome - but long, long overdue. That the men are to be released without appearing before one of the deeply suspect US military tribunals may be a result of what the Foreign Secretary described yesterday as "intensive and complex discussions" between officials of both countries. Equally, however, it may also reflect the lack of any compelling evidence against them.

For the fact is that the whole Guantanamo saga has been a disgrace from the start and something that has sullied the reputation of the United States the world over. The particular iniquity of Guantanamo was not only that the prisoners were held indefinitely and without charge but that - until the US Supreme Court ruled otherwise - they had no legal recourse. They were in a judicial and constitutional limbo: held by the United States, but not protected by US legal safeguards - which is exactly what the Bush administration had ingeniously decreed.

For Tony Blair, as a demonstrably committed ally of the United States, the continued detention of British citizens in Guantanamo bore humiliating testimony to his powerlessness to influence Mr Bush where the "war on terror" was concerned. It also constituted an impediment to normal diplomatic relations between our two countries. The release of the four Britons should bring this unfortunate episode in US-British relations to an end.

It may never be clear whether the releases are on judicial grounds, whether they are intended as a favour to Mr Blair in advance of the election, or whether they are part of a wider public relations exercise - detectable in the US response to the tsunami disaster - by Washington to transform its negative image around the world. There could well be elements of all three. With the war in Iraq having become such a liability, it would make sense for the US to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to good relations with traditional allies.

If this embarrassing chapter in British-US relations may be ending, however, other repercussions of Guantanamo will be harder to expunge. The US Supreme Court may have brought the Guantanamo camp into US jurisdiction, but the administration has not dismantled the military tribunals. According to some reports, the US intends to reduce the number of detainees to 200, from the current 500 or so, then make the prison permanent. So long as anyone is held in conditions that fail to conform either to international conventions or to US law, Guantanamo will stand as an indictment of the US administration that created it. That applies whether there are British citizens detained there or not.

Nor will their release from Guantanamo be the end of the story for those who were held there. The Britons released last year gave harrowing accounts of routine ill-treatment which at times verged on torture. The experiences of the four now to be released will hardly have been different. The memories of their years in US detention, not knowing when or whether they would be released, will live with the nine Britons probably for ever.

There are implications, too, for the British authorities. The men returning must be questioned, and any evidence of criminal activity on their part tested in court. There are security considerations relating to where they may have been seized and what they may have been doing which cannot be ignored. Claims that one or more of the men were trained by al-Qa'ida need to be investigated. Whatever then happens, however, must accord with the law. As British citizens, they will not face the prospect of another judicial no man's land - the British Guantanamo of Belmarsh prison. The shame is that, despite last month's ruling by the Law Lords, if they were merely British residents and not British citizens, such a fate could not be ruled out.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, Britain’s largest Immigration Removal Centre  

Thanks to Channel 4 we now see just how appallingly Yarl’s Wood detention centre shames Britain

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
 

If I were Prime Minister: I’d ensure ministers took mental health in the armed forces as seriously as they take physical wounds

James Jones
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003