Saturday, December 03, 2005

Guantanamo is just an aside

The largest group of former detainees of the "war on terror" came together for a London conference on torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. The conference ran from 19-21 November and was organised by Amnesty International and Reprieve, another UK-based human rights organisation. Over the course of the three-day gathering, former detainees, including many previously held at Guantanamo Bay, talked about their experiences of ill- treatment while in detention.

Secretary-General of Amnesty International Irene Khan was amongst the speakers present. Commenting on the accounts of former detainees Khan said, "their stories are just one tiny element of the terrible human suffering that the war on terror is creating." She warned that "Guantanamo is only the tip of the iceberg. Torture and ill-treatment are increasingly legitimised by the war on terror."

It has recently been revealed that the US has detained more than 83,000 people since the launching of its "war on terror" four years ago. Up to 14,500 of those remain in detention and 108 people are known to have died in US custody.

There are allegations that the American authorities are holding thousands of people in secret locations around the world, including Eastern Europe.

The aim of the conference -- which heard testimonies from former detainees and family members from around the world, along with representatives of human rights organisations, lawyers and UN experts -- was to highlight the human cost of the war on terror. Moazzam Begg, a British national who spent three years in Guantanamo Bay, was among the former detainees who participated in the conference. Begg was captured by Pakistani and US agents in Islamabad in early 2002. He was held at different detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He was released -- without charge -- and repatriated to Britain earlier this year.

"People always ask me how I cope with the difficulties of readjusting to normal life," Begg said. "And I answer life is no longer normal."

Along with Begg, eight other British former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been repatriated and released without charge. Their release came following extensive diplomatic negotiations between Washington and London. Ten UK residents who are not British citizens remain in Guantanamo Bay. This raises the question of just how many innocent men are languishing in the notorious naval base in legal limbo -- not because there is convincing evidence of their culpability, but because their countries have not lobbied for -- or not in a position -- to demand their repatriation and trial at home, if need be.

Begg said he felt especially guilty during his encounters with the wives and children of the UK residents he left behind.

"What do I say to their children when they ask: did you see my father?" he asked. "What can I say to them when they ask me: what had my father done? And what I can say to them when they say: why are you back and my father is not? What does the United States of America say to them? There is nothing to say except that it is unequivocally wrong."

The Pentagon says 505 people are currently held at Guantanamo Bay. Many of these have been there for four years, without being charged, let alone tried or convicted of a crime. Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan following the October 2001 US invasion.

Source : Here


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