Guantanamo Justice

The Britons just out of Camp X-Ray will have some harsh things to say about U.S. justice.


“He’s looking forward to seeing his family very much. However, he wants the U.S. authorities to answer for the
injustice which he has suffered. He has been detained as an innocent for a period of two years. He has been
treated in a cruel, inhumane and degrading manner, he wants the authorities to answer for that.”

So said Robert Lizar, the attorney for Jamal Udeen,
one of five Guantanamo Bay detainees released from the camp and returned to Britain (where they came in for some more degrading treatment before being set free) in the past few days.

The return of the five Britons — who were captured in Afghanistan in 2001; it’s not clear what they were doing there — was intended in part as a goodwill gesture by the U.S. ahead of a visit to Washington by David Blunkett, the British Home Secretary, and as a gift to Tony Blair, who’s been taking flak for having nothing to show for his loyalty to George W. Bush.

All five ex-detainees will have a thing or two to say about life in Camp X-Ray, and that could be very awkward for the Bush administration.

Six hundred prisoners — including four more Brits — are still being held in legal limbo in Guantanamo without the legal cover of “prisoners of war” status. Bush says they are not eligible to be tried in a U.S. criminal court and wants them dealt with by special tribunals. The fear is that these will effectively function as political rubber-stamps. As Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad, an advocacy group, points out:

“Let us not forget that four other Britons remain behind, faced for the time being with
the prospect of being tried by a politically inspired kangaroo court.”

Besides transferring custody of the five Britons, the United States also took the unusual step of stating
the accusations against the four still in custody. As the

BBC reports:

“1. The suspect is said to have trained in an al-Qaeda
camp in Afghanistan in 1998, learning how to use explosives and chemicals. He is said to have escaped US
forces in Afghanistan by going to the al-Qaeda stronghold of Tora Bora and from there to Pakistan.

2. Suspect two is said to have trained in an al-Qaeda camp in
2001, to have met Osama bin Laden three times and to have volunteered for suicide missions.

3. This suspect is alleged to have been at a camp in 2001 and to
have been caught at the house in Pakistan of a senior al-Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah.

4. It is said that suspect four also trained at a camp, scouted the derelict British
Embassy in Kabul as a possible base and was carrying a list of Jewish organizations in New York when
captured.”

By laying out the charges, the United States hopes to reconcile the British public to the its government’s decision — although it never had a choice — to leave the men’s fate to the United States. The British tabloids, which after a typically thoughtful weighing of the evidence dubbed the men the “Tilton
Taliban” (Tilton is the town several of the returned detainees are from), seem resigned to the idea. But it’s hard to be optimistic that the four — or any of the prisoners — will get a fair trial. And anyway, given the secrecy of the proceedings, we’ll probably never know. As the Guardian points out, the

United States’ accusations against the remaining British detainees:

“…are serious
claims, but they would be more impressive if the unnamed official who provided this information had not
admitted that the details were being released, not in the interests of the rule of law but because the U.S.
was losing the public relations battle. He suggested too much ground had been conceded ‘to those who would
say that these people are entirely innocent’. There are several other caveats, including the fact that only
two months ago Pierre Prosper, the US ambassador-at-large on war crimes, told a London press
conference that only two of the nine British detainees were regarded as high risk suspects, with the other
seven in a medium risk category. Now it appears four are high risk, and five low risk. What caused the
change?”

The first-hand accounts of treatment at Guantamo will likely embarrass Bush and Blair. Already the men’s lawyers are demanding that the
United States be held accountable for what they allege was unjust and cruel treatment of their clients. This will not happen, of course, but a very public discussion of conditions at the Guantanamo Bay camp will be uncomfortable for Washington.
Gareth Peirce, the attorney for Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal also

criticized the British police’s treatment of his clients.

“The procedures went on far too long last night – unnecessary and protracted fingerprinting continued until
way after midnight. It was very clear that they should have been allowed to sleep long before they were
and it was very clear their cells were too cold. We told the police that they are simply compounding the
unlawfulness of the last two years.”

All in all, the return of the detainees –- intended as damage control –- is inflicting still more damage to both Blair and Bush because it illustrates the hollowness of Guantanamo “justice.”