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Thursday, July 24, 2003
The disgrace of Guantanamo

The lawyer Louise Christian has a telling article about Guantanamo Bay in today's Guardian. Read it here.
When it was first announced that two British citizens, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, were to stand trial before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, it appeared that at long last Tony Blair would do something to stand up for their human rights. The government came under parliamentary pressure, with 200 MPs of all political parties, including senior Tories and Labour loyalists, signing a motion calling for the men's repatriation to this country. Government ministers Chris Mullin and Baroness Symons were authorised to say that vigorous representations would be made and the government dispatched its most senior law officer, Lord Peter Goldsmith, the attorney general to the US for talks...

Now, however, it appears Tony Blair has done a U-turn and is not to stand up to the US government at all. The "concessions" announced by the attorney general yesterday - that British citizens will not face the death penalty and that a British lawyer may be allowed on to the defence team as a "consultant" - cannot disguise the simple fact that the proposed trial will breach all international norms.

It will be in front of judges who are military officers. They will be wearing the same uniforms as those who have held Feroz and Moazzam captive for over 18 months incommunicado and in conditions which can only be described as inhuman and degrading.

The attorney general will have been well aware that military commissions that are not independent of the US government (George Bush is head of the US armed forces) cannot satisfy the basic requirement for a fair trial as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 14, to which the US is a signatory. It is inconceivable that [the attorney general] will not have pointed this out to US officials and asked for a fair trial in a civil court. His representations have gone unheeded.
I have looked at Article 14. Some relevant points are
1. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law...

3. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality:
(a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him;

(b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing...

(c) To be tried without undue delay;

(d) To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing...
The italics are all mine. You can browse the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights here. Who knows what other articles the limbo of Guantanamo Bay contravenes?

Louise Christian is dead right. It's about time the government adopted a more robust attitude.
What should happen, and should have happened long ago, is for the British government to make formal diplomatic protests. The Pakistani government has done this and has secured the release, with no requirement for domestic court proceedings, of 30 to 40 of its nationals.
Get moaning Tony.

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