It’s our fault that the Americans can’t close Guantanamo, apparently

The Chief Legal Adviser to the US State Department, John D Bellinger, says that foreign governments should stop calling for the closure of Guantanamo and instead help resettle some of the more than 400 prisoners there, according to various press reports, including this from the BBC. 

Some of these reports have recalled that the Americans have offered to send the "British residents" (i.e. prisoners who have had permission to live in Britain but are not British residents) back to the UK but that the British government has refused to accept them.  But that is only part of the truth:

The US has offered to return nine British residents detained at Guantanamo Bay, provided they are kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free in the UK, it was reported today. The offer was made in June this year during secret talks in Washington, but was refused by the Government on the grounds that as the men were foreign nationals, they have no legal right to return. Although the men are accused of terrorist involvement, British officials say that there is not enough evidence to justify the level of surveillance demanded by the US and that the strict conditions stipulated are unworkable and unnecessary, according to documents obtained by The Guardian.
They do not pose a sufficient threat," the head of counter-terrorism at the Home Office is quoted as saying by the newspaper. [Times report of 3 October]

 There's room for argument about the extent of the British government's responsibility for people who lived in the Uk, not British citizens, who have been kidnapped by the Americans as "enemy combatants" on suspicion of being terrorists and who have fetched up in Guantanamo, detained without charge or trial for years.  But there's no room at all for argument about the illegitimacy of the American attempt to impose extreme conditions (24-hour surveillance!) on their willingness to allow these people to return to the countries where they previously lived, and on the decision by the former host country on whether to have them back.  British ministers are quite right to say, however belatedly, that the Guantanamo régime is unacceptable and that it is the responsibility of the United States government to close it unconditionally.  Other governments have no obligation whatever to help to pull these American chestnuts out of the fire for them.

By the way, the British home office's comment that the Guantanamo prisoners "do not pose a sufficient threat"  to justify subjecting them to 24-hour surveillance is reminiscent of the extraordinary remark by UK police and security sources on the two "terrorist suspects" in Britain who were subjected to harsh control orders but who have absconded, their whereabouts currently unknown to the police, —

Police and security sources maintained that the two are not threats to security in Britain.

 If they are not threats to our security, why were they subjected to control orders with the deprivation of liberty that these unconscionable measures impose?  If the former UK residents in Guantanamo don't pose a sufficient threat to warrant 24-hour surveillance if allowed to return to Britain, what on earth are they in Guantanamo for?

To such absurdities and injustices are security authorities and panicky governments reduced when the basic safeguards of due process are sidelined and suspended.


2 Responses

  1. Southpaw says:

    Let's just call it internment – imprisonment without trial.

    And it's the same for anyone on remand who is subsequently found not guilty – imprisonment without trial.

    So let's argue for compensation for all internment. You're released,you get5 apid for your detention.

    Brian writes:  No, don't let's call it internment when we mean 'imprisonment without trial': 'internment' implies a degree of legitimacy which it doesn't have, and the lack of a trial is an important ingredient in its unacceptability.  Imprisonment on remand for those awaiting trial is another issue entirely.  It certainly isn't "imprisonment without trial", even when the eventual trial results in acquittal.  Trial is a fundamental feature of remand.  Any Bill of Rights or Human Rights Act has to recognise that some people awaiting trial can;'t be trusted to remain at liberty while they wait.  One could in theory devise a non-punitive regime, with detention separately from convicted prisoners, for those on remand, but (a) it would jeopardise the right of those later convicted and sentenced to imprisonment to have the time already spent in 'detention' taken into account,  (b) it would be prohibitively expensive, (c) keeping possible (probable?) criminals in a non-punitive regime for any length of time would arouse strong public opposition, and (d) those tried, sentenced and convicted ought also to be imprisoned in a non-punitive regime if there were to be any sanity in our criminal justice system — the deprivation of liberty is the punishment, not the conditions in which people are detained, contrary to the views of the tabloids, Tories, and others such.   As for compensation, I see no reason why it should be paid to those held on remand and later acquitted unless the original prosecution or unreasonable delay in bringing the accused to trial can be shown to have been motivated by malice or marked by negligence or incompetence.  Interesting points, though.

  2. Southpaw says:

    OK  let’s not call remand ‘imprisonment without trial’ .

    But let’s pay compensation to those imprisoned and then found ‘not guilty’.

    If I work 8 hours in an office, I expect to be paid the minimum wage (at the very least). I can also leave.

    Why shouldn’t I be paid if I am locked in a cell for 22 hours a day and when I can’t leave and when (through being found ‘not guilty’) I am deemed to have done nothing wrong?

    What about all my lost wages from that office job whilst I am locked up, never mind possibly losing the job itself?

    Yes, it would be expensive but so is the NHS. In the same way we don’t just let people die to save cash, we should pay people for their forced and unjust confinement.

    And no, I have never been on remand.