UK parliamentary panel calls for Guantanamo alternative, assails US

[JURIST] A UK House of Commons committee called Sunday for the British government to work with the United States to develop an alternative to the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison and speed up its closure. The panel, seven of whose members visited the US facility in September last year, urged the government in an 83-page report [text, PDF] to "engage actively with the US administration and with the international community to assist the process of closing Guantanamo as soon as may be consistent with the overriding need to protect the public from terrorist threats."

The committee was sharply critical of US Guantanamo policy in several respects, concluding that "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." More ominously, the panel found 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." The committee also ventured that "in choosing unilaterally to interpret terms and provisions of the Geneva Conventions, the United States risks undermining this important body of international law." More generally it observed 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the Geneva Conventions are failing to provide necessary protection because they lack clarity and are out of date.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.
Prime Minister Tony Blair [JURIST news archive] has so far only called Guantanamo an "anomaly" that must end eventually [JURIST report].

US President Bush has insisted that Guantanamo inmates are "enemy combatants" [JURIST news archive], not prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Convention. By January 2005, nine Britons had been released from the Guantanamo, but the committee says another nine former UK residents are still incarcerated there. AP has more.

 

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