Guantanamo: Seven Years is long enough

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
12 January 2009

Sunday 11 January was the seventh anniversary of the rendition of the first prisoners to Guantánamo Bay. Demonstrations calling for the prison camp to be shut down were held in more than 35 countries over the weekend. If the world's ears hadn't been filled with the cries from Gaza, the global wave of protests would have been even larger.

Human Rights group SACC says :

"It's time for Guantánamo Bay and the rest of George Bush's torture archipelago to be shut down. And it's time for the world to say so unequivocally. The Guantánamo prisoners should be released right now, or charged right now with recognisably criminal offences and brought promptly before a fair and open court."

The group adds:

"Guantánamo Bay is America's shame. But it isn't just America's shame. It's Britain's shame too. At the same time as pressing for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, Britain should be demanding the immediate return of all the British residents still held there."SACC is backing the Scottish leg of a speaking tour of the UK by two former Guantánamo prisoners and a Guantánamo guard.

SACC Statement in Full

Sunday saw the launch in London of a UK-wide speaking tour by three men from Guantánamo – two of them ex-prisoners, one of them a former guard.

Sami Al Haj is an Al Jazeera cameraman from Sudan who was held for six years without trial at Guantánamo Bay. Moazzam Begg is a British citizen held without trial for three years at Guantánamo Bay. Christopher Arendt is a former Guantánamo Bay guard. The three of them told two sides of the same story of abuse and injustice at the London meeting organised by the prisoner human rights group Cageprisoners. Their testimony should be a wake-up call for anyone who still thinks that Guantánamo Bay serves any decent purpose.

The three men will be taking their story around the UK over the next three weeks, and will be in Scotland at the end of the month, speaking in Glasgow (Friday 30 January) and in Edinburgh (Saturday 31 January) at meetings arranged by Cageprisoners with support from SACC, the Stop the War Coalition and other groups.

248 prisoners are still held at Guantánamo. 779 have passed through its gates since January 11 2002. None of the men held there have been proven guilty of any crime. Guantánamo's kangaroo courts don't meet international standards of justice and are incapable of proving anything at all.

Most of the prisoners haven't had even the doubtful privilege of one of these sham trials. Most have never been charged with any crime. Most are in Guantánamo for the flimsiest of reasons, caught up in a desperate US trawl for human trophies. All have suffered years of torment, humiliation and despair. All have had to live with the possibility that they might be detained for the rest of their lives without any chance of legal redress. Many have suffered treatment – call it torture if you will – that a recent report by the Senate Armed Services said was "based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions." Some have suffered extreme torture at stopovers arranged by the US during their rendition to Guantánamo.

Barack Obama says he wants to close Guantánamo. Last November he said:

"I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture. And I'm gonna make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."

The promise would be more convincing if it wasn't tarnished by the lie that America doesn't torture. And Obama would be more convincing if he wasn't tarnished by his silence over the collective torture that Israel is imposing on Gaza.

The backtracking has already begun. Asked at the weekend whether he would close Guantánamo within his first 100 days as president, Mr. Obama said:

"That's a challenge. It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize - and we are going to get it done - but part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication "

Perhaps he's actually serious about "getting it done." If he is, he will have to tackle legions of officials who have spent seven years of their careers in an atmosphere of brutality, lies and institutional evasion of the law. He will find it easier to do this if his good intentions are reinforced by unequivocal demands for justice from the world's governments and especially from key allies like Britain.

Even the current US administration agrees with that strategy, up to a point. Robert Tuttle, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Britain said last week:

"I would hope that if the UK could see its way through to take some detainees that would certainly be helpful."

His comment should be deeply embarrassing to the British Government. The Foreign Office said at the end of September that its request for the return of Shaker Aamer and Binyam Mohamed - British residents still held at Guantánamo Bay – had been rebuffed by the US. Those rebuffs were accepted with humiliating ease. Never mind that Bimyam Mohamed suffered dreadful torture on the way to Guantánamo, and that the British intelligence services were complicit in it. Never mind that all the supposed evidence against him is the fruit of torture and would be inadmissible in any court other than a US Military Commission. Never mind that he is now in total despair and is in very poor mental heath. Never mind that it may soon be too late for him.

Britain shouldn't be taking detainees just in order to be "helpful" to the serial abusers in the White House. At the same time as pressing for the closure of Guantánamo, it should be demanding the immediate return of all the British residents because that's the right thing to do and because there is no reason for any of them to be languishing in Guantánamo Bay.

Instead, the Foreign Office has refused even to request the return of another British resident - an Algerian man called Ahmad Belbacha - claiming that he had been in Britain illegally. In fact, Ahmad Belbacha was given leave to remain in May 2001. In June 2003 – when he was probably already in US custody – his final asylum appeal was denied but he was granted exceptional leave to remain in the UK.

If Britain won't act on behalf of Ahmad Belbacha, who will? Certainly not Algeria, the country from which he is seeking asylum. And if Britain won’t give a home for a man like Ahmad Belbacha – whose links to the UK are strong – what hope is there that safe havens can be found for all the other men who were wrongly detained at Guantánamoand remain at risk of further ill-treatment if sent back to their countries of origin?

Guantánamo Bay is America's shame. But it isn't just America's shame. It's Britain's shame too. The British intelligence services were complicit in the capture of prisoners sent to Guantánamo and complicit in their torture en route for Guantánamo. Scotland has a particular relationship to Guantánamo – it was a key staging post for CIA rendition flights, providing a refuelling stop for aircraft returning to the US after carrying prisoners along stages of their journeys to Guantánamo. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Police have had comprehensive evidence about this for over a year – provided by legal charity Reprieve – and have so far taken no significant action over it.

It's time for Guantánamo Bay and the rest of George Bush's torture archipelago to be shut down. And it's time for the world to say so unequivocally. Barack Obama is wrong. There's nothing complicated about doing that. If the Guantánamo prisoners had been detained under ordinary law in any law-abiding country in the world they would have charged or released within a few days.

The Guantánamo men have been detained for years. They should be released right now, or charged right now with recognisably criminal offences and brought promptly before a fair and open court.

If their home countries aren't safe for them, the US has a clear responsibility to give them freedom and a home if they want it, or to arrange a home in a safe country if they don't. Right now. And the rest of the world – or those parts of it that claim to value human rights – can do no less after seven years of inaction than to grant the men a haven and join the demands for justice.

Notes For editors

  1. The Scottish meetings in the "Two Sides: One Story tour" arranged by Cageprisoners are as follows:

    7:00pm Friday 30 January, Adelaides, 209 Bath Street, Glasgow , G2 4HZ
    Presented by Cageprisoners, supported by SACC, Glasgow Stop the War Coalition, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Scottish Media Workers Against the War

    2:30pm Saturday 31 Jan, Augustine Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL
    Presented by Cageprisoners, supported by SACC, Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Islamic Society of Edinburgh University and Scottish Media Workers Against the War

    More information about the tour

  2. Report on Scottish involvement