Monday, January 22, 2007

Gitmo - the UK goes a calling

Ah Gitmo, it's goodness keeps going. Here's the executive summary of the recent UK select committee following its visit there. It raises some interesting points. Bearing in mind of course this is an escorted visit with PR people in attendance and the US presenting the absolute best face forward.

I do love the bit that says 'well their health and diet is looked after but it fails the minimum standard for the UK in every other respect'. Funny that - what when you're in a place that allows no access to legal assistance.

Point 9 raises a good point in that it says 'hey they're being treated unfairly but well the first duty of government is to ensure safety of their citizens.' Which is a fair point. It also says it should be closed as soon as possible. It should also be noted that the US closed its secret illegal CIA prisons and shipped some 14 inmates to Gitmo that likewise probably had something to do with terror activities, S11, planning and so forth. Again, a tricky situation to risk manage. I don't envy them. But let's not forget the first line of point 9 being 'We conclude, in line with our previous Reports, that those detained at Guantánamo must be dealt with transparently and in full conformity with all applicable national and international law.'

This of course doesn't change the fact that Gitmo was, and remains, a slap in the face in the legal tradition of the west. And for those that harp on about changing paradigms again all that changed was one of the nastier plots succeeded - like I said before - almost in spite of itself. We have essentially a situation where the police are prosecution, defence, judges and where evidence can be used that doesn't cut the mustard anywhere else. There's a reason after all the first military commissions were deemed unconstitutional.

I agree the Geneva convention should be upgraded to cover this grey spot RE combatants of this nature, how they can be detained, what for etc. But let's not forget the US approach to previous international criminal conventions is to run screaming the other direction along with the more unsavoury nation states like Libya and Saudi Arabia, so I hardly think they're going to come to the table in the spirit of what these changes require.

Another interesting point. Jeb Bush - according to his wiki - successfully petitioned Bush I to pardon a known Cuban nationalist terrorist in the early 90s who was likely involved in the deaths of hundreds of people. But hey - we're talking killing commies (some women and children) - so surely that don't count?

You can find the report here

Conclusions and recommendations

1. We conclude that the Government was right to ensure that persons detained by UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan and transferred to the Afghan authorities cannot be further transferred to the authority of another state, or detained in another country, without the prior written agreement of the United Kingdom. We recommend that the Government in its response to this Report state whether the requirement for such prior written agreement would apply to the transfer to Guantánamo Bay of any person originally detained by UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan including any who may be transferred directly or indirectly to US Forces or agencies. We further recommend that the FCO also set out in its response what steps it is taking to ensure that those detained by UK Armed Forces in other countries cannot be transferred to Guantánamo Bay without the prior written agreement of the United Kingdom.
(Paragraph 5)

2. We conclude that, having visited both Guantánamo and Belmarsh, the facilities at Guantánamo are broadly comparable with those at the United Kingdom’s only maximum security detention facility, but the conditions are not. Guantánamo scores highly on diet and on health provision; but it fails to achieve minimum United Kingdom standards on access to exercise and recreation, to lawyers, and to the outside world through educational facilities and the media. (Paragraph 46)

3. We conclude that publication of the US Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations is a very positive development. We recommend that the Government work both bilaterally and through international fora to press the US Administration to ensure that its interrogation practices do not contravene international law. (Paragraph 55)

4. We conclude that abuse of detainees at Guantánamo Bay has almost certainly taken place in the past, but we believe it is unlikely to be taking place now. Although violence and low-level abuse are endemic in any high-security prison situation, it is the duty of the detaining authority to strive to its utmost to minimise them. We recommend that the Government continue to raise with the United States authorities human rights concerns about the treatment of detainees. (Paragraph 70)

5. We conclude that, in choosing unilaterally to interpret terms and provisions of the Geneva Conventions, the United States risks undermining this important body of international law. (Paragraph 83)

6. We conclude that, by its own test, the Government should recognise that the Geneva Conventions are failing to provide necessary protection because they lack clarity and are out of date. We recommend that the Government work with other signatories to the Geneva Conventions and with the International Committee of the Red Cross to update the Conventions in a way that deals more satisfactorily with asymmetric warfare, with international terrorism, with the status of irregular combatants, and with the treatment of detainees. (Paragraph85)

7. We conclude that the Government is right to stick to its established policy of not accepting consular responsibility for non-British nationals. We recommend that the Government maintain its current position with respect to the return to the United Kingdom of the former British residents presently detained at Guantánamo Bay. (Paragraph 92)

8. We conclude that, although some aspects of the Military Commissions Act are welcome, others give cause for concern. We welcome the Government’s undertaking to study the procedures proposed by the Act. We recommend that the Government carry out that study without delay and that it share the full findings of the study with this Committee. If the Government’s study finds that the procedures proposed in the Military Commissions Act or in any subsequent elaboration are inconsistent with international law or human rights norms, it should make strong representations to the United States Administration. (Paragraph 103)

9. We conclude, in line with our previous Reports, that those detained at Guantánamo must be dealt with transparently and in full conformity with all applicable national and international law. But we recognise too, as we have before, that many of those detained present a real threat to public safety and that all states are under an obligation to protect their citizens and those of other countries from that threat. At present, that obligation is being discharged by the United States alone, in ways that have attracted strong criticism, but we conclude that the international community as a whole needs to shoulder its responsibility in finding a longer-term solution. We recommend that the Government engage actively with the US Administration and with the international community to assist the process of closing Guantánamo as soon as may be consistent with the overriding need to protect the public from terrorist threats. (Paragraph 116)

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