The Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

FIVE GO FREE FROM GITMO?

08-08-2007

In another striking break with Tony Blair's Premiership, Gordon Brown - through Foreign Secretary David Milliband - has demanded the release of five British residents from Guantanamo Bay. Dr David Nicholl reckons he saw the writing on the wall.

David Nicholl with families

It was a year ago that I realised that the US government really did want rid of Guantanamo and were seeking a way out.

I had been invited, along with a group of other human rights activists, the family of Omar Deghayes, and some Members of Parliament to meet representatives of the US embassy last August.

I was suspicious, what was the Embassy's motive? They had initiated this meeting, not the activists.

I wanted to go to express the concerns of many doctors regarding medical treatment and allegations of abuse.

The only string was that it was a private meeting and if we alerted the Press, the meeting would not take place.

It wasn't so much what Richard Bell, the First Secretary to the US embassy said, it was what he didn't say. He kept droning on the same stuff about the definition of non-lawful combatants and how they were being humanely treated.

We kept droning on about the Geneva convention, the UN declaration of Human Rights, Nuremberg and how internment hadn't worked in Northern Ireland. The conversation was getting absolutely nowhere and yet he showed absolutely no sign of getting up to leave.

Anyhow about 2 hours into this apparently fruitless meeting last August, the penny finally dropped.

He was filibustering us- essentially the Ambassador must have told him something like this, ‘look Richard I want you to meet this family and activists and show them that we do care, just keep talking to them until they get bored, at least we can tell the Press we do arrange to meet with the families and try and address their concerns'.

Yet in amongst the ping-pong across the table of ‘illegal combatant' versus ‘due process', one pearl of information stuck in my mind.

I pointed out that the British Medical Association had recently unanimously passed a motion to ask the UK government to send an independent group of doctors to assess the detainees, so had the embassy had any such request?

No, they had not received any request nor had they had any discussions regarding the British residents but they would welcome the opportunity to speak to any government regarding potential return of detainees provided that they could no longer be deemed a risk to US security.

Then it became apparent to me, the US really did want to close it, but no government wanted to exactly bend over and help them.

After all, the Americans had to approach over 20 countries to get someone, anyone, to take a bunch of Chinese Uighirs.

The Uighirs got sent to Albania, rather than the US government face the embarrassment of a habeus corpus writ, such was the political sensitivity of it.

At the end of the day, from a politicians' stance there are no votes in Guantanamo, the very fact of someone having been in Guantanamo makes that person guilty in many voters' eyes - the 21st century version of trial-by-drowning of medieval witches. Maybe not such an off-beam metaphor when they use water-boarding as a legitimate interrogation technique.

So I think the news that the British Government will be campaigning on behalf of Omar Deghayes is about time and very good news.

Any reasonable person, like me, who saw the BBC Newsnight story in Feb 2005 that clearly demonstrated Omar was a victim of mistaken identity - he was being held because he resembled a dead Chechen rebel - would have been appalled.

I'm sure it will take months for him to come home, there is a lot of political face-saving to be done

Why has Gordon Brown and David Milliband had this change of heart? To be quite honest, I haven't a clue, and frankly, I don't care - all I've ever wanted to see is justice done and seen to be done.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

The Stirrer home

©2006 The Stirrer