One of the first actions of newly elected US President Barack Obama was to order the closure in 12 months of the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The deadline expires on 22 January and there are still around 200 detainees being held in the infamous holding centre.
The closure of the camp was an important totem for the Obama administration that wanted to signal to the world that the US was returning to the confines of international law. It would no longer be overseeing detention without trial and the practices of torture deployed by the previous administration.
As with many other things though, Obama has been fought tooth and nail by the American right over his efforts to shut Guantanamo. Attempts to release any of the detainees into America or indeed hold them in US prisons were resisted. Few other countries have proved willing to accept any of the detainees.
Most recently President Obama seemed to throw in the towel completely agreeing that up to 60 detainees could remain detained long term without trial.
This final action amounted to the President signing up to the trading of liberties for security club. It is this equation that lies at the heart of the injustice of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and indeed it is the real fault line that underlies the so-called war on terror.
Guantanamo Bay has become symbolic of the criminal practice of picking up people from anywhere around the world, transporting and then holding them without trial for years on end. It has also been a centre for the practice of torture.
Guantanamo Bay drew the public focus but a network of similar less public centres has been established around the world.
British citizen Binyam Mohamed was rendered to Morocco where he was tortured before being taken on to Guantanamo Bay. Another British citizen Moazzam Begg was picked up in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo Bay. Brighton resident Omar Deghayes was picked up in Pakistan and taken to Guantanamo Bay were he was detained for five years on the premise that he was someone else.
The basic injustice that lies at the heart of Guantanamo style justice is the inability of individuals to hear of what they are accused in a properly constituted court of law. The military tribunals deployed at Guantanamo Bay are not fit for this purpose.
This process of detaining people without trial has also been replicated in this country, only in a much less visible form. Here a number of men were picked up in December 2001 after the passing of the Anti-terror Crime and Security Act into law. They were first held in prison and later under control order style detention in their homes. The lives of these individuals and their families have been made so unbearable in a hardly disguised effort to get them to leave the country on a “voluntary” basis. To this day there are a number of individuals still under control order style house arrest as their various cases work their way through the appeals system, no doubt eventually finishing up in Europe. This has become known as “Britain’s Guantanamo.”
“No one should be detained unless they have been before a jury or panel of judges in a fully accredited court of law. Everyone has the right to be dealt with under the law,” said Bruce Kent, who has visited a number of the individuals in detention.
The cry of the men being held in the shadows in Britain is the same as that of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, namely to be brought before a properly constituted court and be told of what they are accused. If they can then answer that charge to the satisfaction of a jury they should then be released.
It is this basic ancient right of habeas corpus that has been trashed over the past eight years since the attacks on America of 11 September 2001.
It is sad to see the promise of the Obama presidency with regard to safeguarding civil liberties and restoring the rule of law being so quickly extinguished. Liberties are now regarded as a luxury that can be taken away from any citizen at the will of a ruler. The President it would seem has signed up to the mantra of dictators the world over, namely give me your liberties and I will provide security. This approach is a recipe for disaster in the long term