CIVIL LIBERTY ISSUES
600 people are currently imprisoned at the base only on suspicion of having
a connection to Al Qaida or the Taliban. Doctors admit at least 30 of the Guantanamo
Bay prisoners have attempted suicide.
They have no right to a jury trial. They will be tried by five military officers,
who can authorise the death sentence. Inside the US the Patriot Act, rammed
through in October, allows indefinite detention of people who are not US citizens
if Bush's attorney general John Ashcroft says they are terrorists.
Amnesty International reports that many of these people have suffered physical
and verbal abuse and that they were held in prolonged solitary confinement.
The majority of these people have since been deported from the US after secret
US and UK governments are in negotiations about the fate of the British
detainees and there is now agreement that the men will not face the death
penalty if convicted of terrorist offences. Britain has also agreed to adhere
to any sentence passed on by the US if the detainees serve their jail terms
(most likely to be life sentences) in the UK.
The Pentagon has defended the detention at Guantanamo Bay of at least three
children aged between 13 and 15 captured in Afghanistan saying that "…
despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people…". Their
fate is as yet undecided.
Following successful public meetings in Birmingham this Summer, the families
of the 3 Tipton detainees of Guantanamo Bay have been trying to get Sandwell
Council to allow a similar public meeting in the Muslim Community Centre in
Tipton. All three of the Tipton families live within a couple of streets of
The purpose of this meeting is to bring together the families and legal teams
of the detainees, to raise public awareness of the persecution they and the
detainees are suffering. To date there has been no evidence bought forward against
any of the detainees, who are locked up like animals. Many of whom have been
denied the basic right to medical attention.
After several weeks of trying to get Sandwell Council to agree, we appear to
be stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire (you might be forgiven for thinking that
booking a room in a community centre should be a simple affair!). Council officers
are saying there are ‘safety issues’ which prevent them allowing the meeting,
but they are unable or unwilling to say what these might be. They also cite
‘the public nature’ of the meeting as being a problem, when public meetings
take place at Sandwell Community Centres all the time.
This inertia has encouraged the belief, already in circulation, that the decision
to withhold permission is deliberate and is based on a preference within the
Council to keep the whole issue of the detainees’ experience under wraps.