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 - US Accused of Persistent Rights Violations at Camp X-Ray

    U.S. Accused of Persistent Rights Violations at Camp X-Ray

    The Bush administration was accused of violating human rights afforded by the Geneva conventions yesterday by persistently refusing to allow 600 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay access to lawyers, the courts or relatives.

    The British government was also criticised for failing to protect the rights of the eight Britons among the prisoners.

    A year after the Pentagon first began transferring al-Qa'ida and Taliban suspects to the US naval base on the south-east tip of Cuba, human rights campaigners and lawyers have accused the administration of creating an unprecedented legal black hole.

    Amnesty International said: "No access to the courts, law-yers or relatives; the prospect of indefinite detention in small cells for up to 24 hours a day; the possibility of trials by executive military commissions with the power to hand down death sentences; and no right of appeal. Is this how the USA defends human rights and the rule of law? This legal limbo is a continuing violation of human rights standards which the international community must not ignore."

    The first prisoners were flown to Guantanamo Bay a year ago today, blindfolded, handcuffed, their ankles shackled and wearing ear-muffs. Despite fears that the men were not being granted the rights afforded to them by international agreements, the Bush administration refused to rec-ognise them as prisoners of war and instead described them as "enemy combatants".

    At the time, Rear-Admiral John Stufflebeem of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the men held in the temporary prison called Camp X-Ray: "They are bad guys. They are the worst of the worst and if let out on the street, they will go back to the proclivity of trying to kill Americans and others."

    But after being interrogated by the CIA and FBI, none of the men have been charged with any crime. Three Afghan prisoners including two elderly and frail men were returned home after the US decided they were "no longer a threat".

    Campaigners complain that the fate of the prisoners does not appear to be an issue. Thomas Wilner, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 12 Kuwaiti prisoners, said: "These are violations of basic human rights and something that Americans should care about. But the public responds with fear and deference to the government in times of crisis."

    British officials including members of the security services have made several visits to the eight Britons held at Guantanamo Bay. They said they are satisfied with the conditions in which the prisoners are being held. Yesterday a Foreign Office spokesman said the Government continued to "press the US about the future of the Britons" and had urged it to come to a decision about their future.

    The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has made clear he believes the prisoners should be returned to Britain, though the decision on whether to charge them would be taken by the Crown Prosecution Service.

    Lawyers representing the Britons have accused the British government of doing too little to help their clients. In November, three Court of Appeal judges described the detention of the Britons as "objectionable" but ruled that the Foreign Office could not be forced to do more.

    Neil Durkin, a spokesman for Amnesty, said the Government was tacitly supporting the violation of human rights. "We don't think the UK Government has done enough," he said.

    By Andrew Buncombe - The Independent / 11 January 2003

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