By Gerry Byrne
Two British citizens Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, facing a secret US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay will be given a choice: ‘confess or die’—plead guilty and accept a 20-year prison sentence, or be executed if found guilty.
President George Bush made a formal ruling last week that the men would face trial before a military tribunal at which US military officers would serve as judge, jury and prosecution. More than 200 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling for them to be returned to Britain, amid fears they will not get a fair trial.
David Blunkett is said to oppose their extradition from the US because they are unlikely to be convicted under British rules of evidence. In other words, let the US commit miscarriages of justice on our behalf.
British lawyers say that intelligence or interrogation-based evidence would make it hard for the Crown Prosecution Service even to try to mount a successful prosecution and lack of access to their clients for 18 months rendered a fair trial impossible.
Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad, which is leading the campaign for the two men, said: “Our concern is that there will be no meaningful way of testing the evidence against these people. The US Defence Department has set itself up as prosecution, judge and defence counsel and has created the rules of trial. This is patently a kangaroo court.”
Amnesty and other human rights groups complain that US detainees in Guantanamo Bay have suffered severe abuse, including beatings that may have led to the death of two men held at the US detention facility at Bagram (outside Kabul, Afghanistan).
In March, Amnesty wrote to President Bush to complain about the treatment of detainees after US military officials reportedly confirmed that post-mortem reports in the cases of the two men who died at Bagram gave cause of death as “homicide” and “blunt force injuries”.
Since the camp opened there have been 28 reported suicide attempts involving 18 of the inmates. Prisoners are held in cells measuring 6ft 8in by 8ft, doors and walls are made of mesh and each prisoner is allowed out of the cell three times a week for 20 minutes of solitary exercise in a large concrete-floored cage, followed by a five-minute shower.
Amnesty said that the detention by the US of more than 600 foreign nationals, including Britons, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a human rights scandal and that the prisoners should be released or charged.
“What would have been unacceptable on 10 September 2001 is now becoming almost the norm”, said Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general. “What would have been an outrage in Western countries during the Cold War—torture, detention without trial, truncated justice—is readily accepted in some countries today.”
Less publicised has been the practice of the US secretly sending prisoners suspected of al-Qaida connections to countries where torture during interrogation is legal. Prisoners moved to such countries as Egypt and Jordan can be subjected to torture and threats to their families to extract information sought by the US in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The normal extradition procedures have been bypassed in the transportation of dozens of prisoners suspected of terrorist connections. The suspects have been taken to countries where the CIA has close ties with the local intelligence services and where torture is permitted.
“After September 11, these sorts of movements have been occurring all the time,” a US diplomat told the Washington Post. “It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can’t do on US soil.”
Clearly the two Britons, already defined as ‘unlawful combatants’ and thus presumed guilty before they are tried, will not face a fair trial. But nor will the other 600. Eagerness to get a result in the so-called ‘war on terror’ has led to state-sponsored inhumanity.
Democratic rights can not be defended by inhumane anti-democratic measures. The camp should be closed and the prisoners released or face fair trial under normal rules, where they can choose their own defence. The torture of prisoners, either directly or via third party states, must cease.