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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits