On the 11th of January 2002, the first detainees were transferred to the US Naval base Guantanamo Bay. The orange jumpsuit has become a symbol of the USA’s and its allies failed ‘war on terror’. The atrocities that we know have occurred behind the security fences at Guantanamo are an ugly blight on both the UK’s and the US’s foreign policy. This is the 3rd year in a row I have blogged about Guantanamo Bay, still being open, still being a blight on the US and its allies and still ruining lives. This blog is a plea to President Obama urging him to live up to his word to close the camp and restore the credibility of the US on the world stage. Until this happens, he can never separate himself or his country off from Bush’s disastrous legacy.
The legacy of Guantanamo Bay is one that we should all be ashamed of. For as long as it stays open, we know that to a limited extent, arbitrary detention, secret detention, torture and other ill-treatment, renditions, and unfair trials still plays a part in our foreign policy. When our representatives go abroad and talk of democracy and human rights, Guantanamo is mentioned as a symbol of our hypocrisy.
There are still 150 detainees in Guantanamo. All 150 people are still being denied their basic freedoms. The majority of them are being held indefinitely without charge or trial. Remember a few years ago, we were all up in arms (quite rightly) that New Labour tried to introduce a 90 day period where you could be held with charge or trial? Well imagine what it must be like to be held indefinitely, never knowing if you will be a free man, or even what crime you are supposed to have committed. There is still a Brit in Guantanamo Bay, alongside others, who have no idea why they are being held there.
The few ‘lucky’ ones who are being put on trial are facing the notoriously unfair military commissions and potentially face the death penalty if found guilty. Why, they cannot be tried in conventional courts has yet to be explained to me. Maybe it is because any self-respecting legal system would not go near information obtained through torture! The US government has already stated that those who are found to be NOT guilty may still face being returned to indefinite detention.
In short, the US is making up the rules as it goes along. To make it worse, these ‘new rules’ that are being introduced fly in the face of all pre-existing human rights standards which the White House still has the audacity to claim to support.
Guantanamo detainees should either be charged and prosecuted in fair trials or released to countries that will respect their human rights. If there ‘home’ countries cannot take them, or if there is any belief that they will be in danger should they returned then they should be offered refugee status in the US. It is about time the US started living up to its responsibilities. The US military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, should be abandoned without delay. The right to a fair trial is so central to a democracy that it undermines the very bedrock of US society if it is removed.
President Obama, for as long as you fail to live up to these very basic demands, you will be seen as being no better that George Bush. Sort it out!