The Guantanamo Five – five British men held in Guantanamo Cuba (formerly Camp X-Ray) have now been released to British authorities and returned home after two long years of being interned in a military prison without charge nor access to legal support.
These men were captured in Afghanistan during the War on Terror response for the 9/11 attacks. Held for two years in Guantanamo under conditions considered both harsh and inhumane, they faced regular interrogation and psychological abuse that may well constitute torture. Their status as ‘unlawful combatants’ and thus seemingly ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention (one must question if they were obviously eligible would they actually have been accorded the prescribed rights?) was ill conceived and illegal.
With their detention by the US Army, one would expect that every reasonable effort would have been made by the British government to ensure their welfare and fair treatment – especially as they had not been charged with any crime. In essence they were unlawfully held and the British government failed in its duty to its nationals.
The Geneva Convention clearly proposes that ALL combatants captured in conflict must be accorded the protection of the convention. If their status is in question (which it is), they must be accorded protection until the appropriate status was decided by a recognised legal body (military or otherwise).
It seems that the fate of these men (innocent or not) was sacrificed at the expense of the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK. This relationship is a myth. A capitalist imperial power like the US and indeed as the UK once was, has no special relationships. It has preferred economic partners – friends whilst economic interests converge, adversaries when they do not. As the saying goes ‘ there are no common enemies, just common interests’.
Sacrificing Britons in the name of the ‘special relationship’ is nothing new for successive British governments – the British government has consistently failed its nationals held in the US prison system, particularly those facing the death penalty. This is not about saving clearly guilty criminals from deserved punishment (the abolition of the death penalty is a separate debate) , its about those judgments that have been independently assessed as miscarriages of justice. By not enforcing international human rights law in the name of its nationals against the US ; and being an accessory to the denial of rights to the nationals of other countries, the UK government stands in the dock as a human rights abuser.
In any case, these detainees have been released to the British authorities, without charge or compensation. None has been sought on their behalf by the British government. Instead , upon their arrival they have been held by UK authorities – again without charge and again subject to ‘questioning’. When will it be over for these individuals is anyone’s guess, no doubt they will be subject to surveillance for a long time to come and perhaps inexplicable travel restrictions. I expect the deal that saw them released from Guantanamo was based on the promise of prosecution by UK authorities. But it seems ridiculous to think that after two years of harsh treatment and constant interrogation by the US military could not uncover incriminating evidence (scant as its requirement is under secret military tribunals), the British authorities would somehow be able to uncover sufficient evidence to charge or prosecute them under British law. Clearly a face saving, teflon shoulder move by the US to mitigate its responsibility in this violation of international law.
It is time to say ‘enough is enough’ in the denial of the human rights of these individuals, the suffering of their families and the irreplaceable time they have lost under unlawful detention. Whatever their reasons for being in Afghanistan, until their motives and actions have been deemed illegal under recognised law they must be accorded the rights of the innocent, regardless of the seeming goal of scapegoating someone, anyone for the 9/11 attacks.