Adam Ash

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

US Diary: Camp Guantanamo is worse than a few Danish cartoons

1. NY Times Editorial: The Shame of the Prisons

Who needs sophomoric cartoons to inflame the Muslim world when you've got the Bush administration's prison system? One reason the White House is so helpless against the violence spawned by those Danish cartoons is that it has squandered so much of its moral standing at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. This week, the world got two chilling reminders of why both prisons must be closed.

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a scathing report on the violations of democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law at Guantánamo Bay: indefinite arbitrary detentions, hearings that mock fair process and justice, coercive and violent interrogations, and other violations of laws and treaties.

The Bush administration offered its usual weak response, that President Bush has decided there is a permanent state of war that puts him above the law. And that is exactly the problem: by creating Guantánamo outside the legal system for prisoners who, according to Mr. Bush, have no rights, the United States is stuck holding these 500 men in perpetuity. The handful who may be guilty of heinous crimes can never be tried in a real court because of their illegal detentions. A vast majority did nothing or were guilty only of fighting on a battlefield, but the administration refuses to sort them out.

Some members of Congress tried to exert control over Guantánamo Bay late last year. But their efforts were hijacked by Bush loyalists, who made matters worse by stripping the prisoners there of the basic human right to challenge their detentions.

Now the only solution is to close Guantánamo Bay and account for its prisoners fairly and openly. The United States then needs a prisons policy that conforms to the law and to democratic principles.

The U.N. report followed a broadcast by an Australian television station of previously unpublicized photographs taken at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Many were similar to the pictures the world saw two years ago when the scandal of abuse, humiliation and torture first broke. Others show even worse abuses and degradation.

All are a reminder that the Bush administration has yet to account for what happened at Abu Ghraib. No political appointee has been punished for the policies that led to the atrocities. Indeed, most have been rewarded.

The prison was a symbol of the worst of the Hussein regime. Now it's a symbol of the worst of the American occupation. Congress should order it replaced. And perhaps John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, could keep his promise to dig out the truth about Abu Ghraib.

2. 'The Americans are Breaking International Law ... It is a Society Heading Towards Animal Farm' -- Archbishop Sentamu on Guantanamo
By Ian Herbert and Ben Russell

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has launched a passionate attack on President George Bush, saying his administration's refusal to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay camp reflected "a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm".

Dr Sentamu, the Church of England's second in command, urged the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to take legal action against the US - through the US courts or the International Court of Justice at The Hague - should it fail to respond to a report, by five UN inspectors, advising that Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay should be shut immediately because prisoners there are being tortured.

The report was published on Thursday, as a senior High Court judge, Mr Justice Collins, stated that American actions over Guantanamo's Camp Delta do not "appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations". As a result of his ruling, three of eight British inmates held in the camp are to appeal to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to intervene with the Bush administration on their behalf.

Archbishop Sentamu's comments will strengthen the increasingly insistent international pressure for Guantanamo to be closed. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for its closure, after similar appeals by Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and the UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Dr Sentamu said the UNHRC should seek a writ of habeas corpus, compelling the US to bring those being detained at Guantanamo to court, to establish whether they are imprisoned lawfully and if they should be released.

"The American Government is breaking international law," he told The Independent. "The main building block of a democratic society is that everyone is equal before the law, innocent until proved otherwise, and has the right to legal representation. If the guilt of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is beyond doubt, why are the Americans afraid to bring them to trial? Transparency and accountability are the other side of the coin of freedom and responsibility. We are all accountable for our actions in spite of circumstances. The events of 9/11 cannot erase the rule of law and international obligations.

"The US should try all 500 detainees at Guantanamo, who still include eight British residents, or free them without further delay. To hold someone for up to four years without charge clearly indicates a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm."

The Government has already managed to secure the release, in March 2004, of the four British nationals who were detained at Guantanamo _ Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar _ although only after guarantees they would be constantly monitored and face an investigation to ascertain whether they can be charged in this country.

Washington had claimed all four were "enemy combatants" who trained at camps run by al-Qa'ida. But they were released after UK police concluded there was not enough evidence to charge them with any offence. The men said they had been tortured at Guantanamo, allegations the US denied.

So far the Prime Minister appears unmoved by the growing sense of indignation brought on by the UNHRC report. He reiterated a statement first made a year ago that the base in Cuba was "an anomaly".

Sir Menzies Campbell, the acting Liberal Democrat leader, said: "This is not an anomaly which needs to be sorted sooner or later. This is an outrage that needs to be sorted out now. Guantanamo Bay has damaged the reputation of the US and its allies across the globe, and particularly in the Middle East."

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, told the BBC the military tribunals proposed by Washington to try detainees at the base did not amount to a fair trial "by standards we would regard as acceptable". But last night, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, rejected Mr Annan's calls.

"He's just flat wrong. We shouldn't close Guantanamo," he said. " We have several hundred terrorists, bad people, people who if they went back out on the field would try to kill Americans ... To close that place and pretend that really there's no problem just isn't realistic."


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