Six years of Guantanamo

Press Release from Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)

Six years of Guantanamo and the "War on Terror"
Lawyer and poet to speak at meeting to mark Guantanamo anniversary

Friday 11th January is the 6th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In those six years the images of disoriented, humiliated men arriving at the camp in shackles and orange jump suits have become as iconic as images of the Twin Towers. The images represent everything that is wrong with the "war on terror" being waged by the US and Britain.

Leading figures from Scottish public life will be on the panel of a public meeting being held in Edinburgh on Friday evening to discuss Guantanamo Bay and the erosion of civil liberties and freedom of expression that the "war on terror" has brought to our own country. The meeting is being held in the Augustine Church on Edinburgh's George IV Bridge at 7.30pm and is sponsored by Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and Scotland Against Criminalising Communities.

Speakers include campaigning lawyer Aamer Anwar, SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville, Noman Tahir, editor of Iwitness (Scotland's Muslim newspaper) and Asif Siddique, whose brother Mohammed Atif Siddique was jailed last year for so-called "terrorist" offences connected with activity on the internet. The meeting will be chaired by Kathy Jenkins, delegate to Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition from an Edinburgh branch of Unite, Britain's biggest trade union.

Writer and poet Tom Leonard will be talking about freedom of expression and will be reading poems by Guantanamo prisoners from a recently-published anthology of their poetry. The book was one of three that Tom Leonard submitted as his books of the year to the Sunday Herald.

Few of the Guantanamo prisoners have anything to do with terrorism. According to US military sources, out of 517 prisoners whose cases were documented after military hearings began in 2004, only eight percent were accused of being al Qaeda fighters and just five pecent had been captured by US forces - the rest had been handed over to the US by others, often in exchange for cash. Less than half of the prisoners are accused of a hostile act against the US, even though the definition of a hostile act is very broad and covers people fleeing from camps in Afghanistan bombed by the US. In many cases the evidence against prisoners is laughably laughably thin and is based on information extracted under torture.

The poems written by the prisoners are a reminder that humiliation isn't the only story to be told about Guantanamo Bay. Through the support they have given each other, through plain-speaking in the face of "kangaroo court" military tribunals and through these poems, the prisoners have kept the human spirit alive in that desolate place.

Worldwide Day of Action

The public meeting in Edinburgh is part of a worldwide day of action aimed at increasing pressure on the US to close Guantanamo.

In Edinburgh, the evening meeting will be preceded by a protest being held outside the US Consulate at 1pm. Demonstrators will be wearing orange boilersuits. The protest is being organised by Amnesty International. Amnesty says:

"If you want to see Guantanamo closed, like dressing up and want to do something worthwhile with your lunchtime, then come along and take part on January 11th".

In London, Amnesty International is organising a demonstration outside the US Embassy. At other sites in London, people protesting against Guantanamo will be posing as human statues. There will also be a demonstration in London's Parliament Square between 6 and 8 pm.

And at 11am a group of former British detainees led by Moazzam Begg will be handing a letter in to Downing Street. The letter asks the British government to intervene on behalf of two long-term British residents still being held at Guantanamo Bay - Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi and Ahmed Belbacha. The letter also asks the British government to call unequivocally for the Guantanamo prison camp to be closed.

In Washington DC, protestors wearing orange boilersuits will be marching to the Supreme Court. There will be protests outside Guantanamo's HQ at US Southern Command in Miami, and in many other US cities.

Abuses continue

Over 800 men and boys have passed through the gates of Guantanamo Bay. Over 250 are still held there. Many more prisoners are being held illegally by the US at other sites around the world. The prison at Bagram military base in Afghanistan is now twice the size of Guantanamo. The British territory of Diego Garcia has almost certainly been used by the US to imprison people illegally. Aircraft previously linked to the US rendition programme are still visiting Scottish airports.

Two of the British residents who were released from Guantanamo in December now face possible extradition to further detention in Spain because of the cynical misuse of a process initiated in December 2003 by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, most probably in a well-intentioned attempt to drag the feeble evidence against the men out of the torture-rooms of Guantanamo and into a real court. The British government knew this was going to happen but said nothing about it. The men's lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, has accused it of "lying." In a letter published in today's Times Harold Pinter, Baroness Kennedy QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Victoria Brittain have called on the Spanish government to "withdraw its ill-considered persecution of these men."

The British government wants Parliament to give police the power to hold people for up to 42 days without charge. The British Home Office is already using control orders to impose extra-judicial punishment on people not accused of any crime. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech no longer exist in Britain. People are being jailed for visiting websites that the government doesn't like. According to lawyer Gareth Pierce:

"the common elements in each conviction have now become familiar: the defendant had not the slightest idea that such possession was inconsistent with the right to freedom of thought; was not remotely involved in any terrorist activity; and was Muslim."

The unjust wars that Britain and the US are waging in the Middle East are poisoning civil society in our own countries. Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and Scotland Against Criminalising Communities call for the immediate close of Guantanamo Bay and other illegal US-run prison camps and for a halt to the British government's plans for repressive new "anti-terrorism" legislation. And we call on the British government to stop the engine that drives all this injustice by bringing all the British troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Notes for Editors

  1. The statistics quoted above on Guantanamo prisoners' links to terrorism were obtained from a report by Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University School of Law and Joshua Denbeaux of Debbeaux and Debbeaux - see
  2. For details of some of the protests around the world on 11 Jan, see www.witnesstorture.org
  3. Amnesty International event in Edinburgh
    Amnesty International event in London
    For other events in London and around the UK see www.guantanamo.org.uk
  4. For evidence pointing to use of Diego Garcia for illegal detention, see the report by legal charity Reprieve
  5. Evidence of a recent visit to Scotland by an aircraft linked to rendition
  6. Pictures of protests in Edinburgh on 11 January 2007 (last year).