10 years since Guantanamo Bay
It’s ten years since the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay. To give some sort of perspective, that’s almost as long as the ipod and the Euro have been around. In the same way, it’s become hard to imagine a world without Guantanamo, to the extent that it has entered our language as a by-word for unending imprisonment beyond the rule of law – the 21st century synonym for ‘gulag’.
Yet, almost paradoxically, the camp’s notoriety has not been matched by either the political will or the public pressure needed to close it. President Obama has failed to deliver on his promise to do so – and recently signed into law an Act which will now make it even harder to get anyone out.
Meanwhile, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, is still there, approaching his own ten year anniversary at Guantanamo this February. He is stuck there, despite repeated British Government requests for his release – in this sense, he is a living reminder not only of the abuses and excesses of the War on Terror, but also of hopelessness of UK claims of a ‘Special Relationship’. For if there really was such a thing, would a Londoner ever be held without charge for a decade, against the wishes of his own Government?
The more disturbing conclusion, of course, is that the UK’s attempts to secure Shaker’s return have been lukewarm, tacitly allowing the US to know that Guantanamo is no longer a high priority for the Government. This would sit all too easily with recent moves to usher in secret proceedings in court cases involving the security services, and hamstring judicial oversight and accountability. The plans, which closed for consultation last week, were set out with little fanfare towards the end of last year in the Justice and Security Green Paper. They would do away with the legal principle by which we first found out about British complicity in torture and rendition in the case of Binyam Mohamed; and they would massively (and unnecessarily) extend secrecy into Britain’s courts, damaging our centuries-old tradition of open justice while making it easier to cover up Government involvement in the excesses of the ‘War on Terror’.
This may seem like a side issue, but it is all part of the same depressing picture. On both sides of the Atlantic, the pressure to close Guantanamo is waning, while governments introduce authoritarian legislation which will make it harder to prevent or right such wrongs in the future.
Meanwhile, the less well known Bagram prison remains very much open for business in Afghanistan. There, the US holds not hundreds but thousands of prisoners beyond the rule of law, including Yunus Rahmatullah, a man originally detained by Britain and subsequently ‘rendered’ by the US to Afghanistan. A UK court has ordered the Government to secure his release from the US – again, they have asked, but Yunus is not yet free.
Taken together, what does all this mean as we look back on a decade of Guantanamo? At home, perhaps it is unfair to doubt William Hague’s sincerity when he says he has pressured the US to release Shaker Aamer. But taken in the overall context of recent policy, it is hard to see this Government as one which is committed to ensuring the excesses and abuses of the War on Terror end and are never allowed to happen again.Tagged in: Guantanamo Bay
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