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Guantanamo report flawed

Statement from Reprieve 19.01.07

Reprieve expresses disappointment at today's Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Guantánamo Bay. Lawyers at Reprieve represent 38 prisoners at the base. "The report is full of factual errors," said Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve. "It seems to be based in large part on a show tour of the prison taken by Committee members last September."

Reprieve is especially appalled by the Committee's recommendation that the ten British residents who remain in Guantánamo be left to their fate. These include men whose homes and lives are in Britain—men like Jamil El Banna, who has a British wife and five British children, or Omar Deghayes, who faces certain torture and abuse if returned to Libya. None have ever been tried. "It makes no sense to say the world must ‘shoulder responsibility' for closing Guantánamo when the UK government shirks its moral duty to its own people," said Mr. Stafford Smith.

Though the Committee did not meet any of the detainees or speak to any of the lawyers who have, it reports that "many of those detained" in Guantánamo "present a real threat to public safety." This conclusion apparently comes from the briefings given to the Committee members by the U.S. authorities.

"The Committee expresses mild concern that the prisoners can be held based on secret evidence, coerced out of them, without a trial," said Mr. Stafford Smith. "Yet the Committee recommends without any kind of trial that they be left to their fate based on secret evidence which has been coerced out of them. The Committee seems intent on acting as a surrogate to this horrible prison, and has spurned its moral obligation towards these men."

The Committee also reports that abuses at Guantánamo have largely ended and adds that the prison "scores highly" on diet and health care. Zachary Katznelson, Senior Counsel for Reprieve, comments: "These people only got a show tour—which doesn't include the sponges left in after surgery, or the wrong teeth pulled because of incompetence and translation problems. Abuses are still going on in Guantanamo Bay, and the mental health of the British residents continues to deteriorate."

The idea that the new Military Commissions Act (MCA) is to be welcomed is based on a similar misunderstanding of the process. There is virtually no substantive distinction between the MCA and the commissions that were previously in place – and that were condemned by Lord Steyn as "kangaroo courts." A prisoner can still be sentenced to death based on secret evidence that has been coerced out of him, or hearsay evidence that has been tortured out of someone else. "If this is the kind of thing the Committee welcomes, then perhaps they would also advocate the return of the Star Chamber," said Mr. Stafford Smith.

"It is a sad day when these British politicians are not willing to stand up for justice," said Mr. Stafford Smith.