What rights remain of the Guantanamo Bay detainees will be put to a quick test
in Britain following the release of five Britons over the next few weeks.
While the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the rights of the detainees, the release
of five Britons becomes a test case within Europe that could influence decisions
over the remaining detainees, leading lawyers here say.
The five Britons were held for more than two years without charge like the
others. But their release now marks official admission that there was no good
reason to detain them in the first place – or at least to hold them in detention
The five, Shafiq Rasul (26), Asif Iqbal (22), Ruhal Ahmed (21), Jamaluddin
(37) and Tarek Dergoul (24) are expected back in Britain next month, but are
unlikely to face any further prosecution.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett has said: "I think you will find
that no one who is returnedàwill actually be a threat to the security
of the British people." The release of the five was secured after they
were interrogated on several occasions by members of MI5, the British secret
The 'official' admission of unlawful detention raises questions about what
compensation they can hope to get, but their lawyers are not optimistic.
"A great deal will depend on the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court whether
the U.S. government acted illegally in holding these men in detention,"
Greg Powell, solicitor for Ruhal Ahmed told IPS.
The U.S. Supreme Court in New York said Friday it will set guidelines for policy
to detain terror suspects. The court is hearing the case of Yaser Esam Hamidi,
a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Another case challenges the
detention of non-U.S. citizens being held at Guantanamo Bay.
"There are real questions here of jurisdiction and how a judgment could
be enforced," Powell said. "But don't forget that this is the court
that handed the election to George Bush the way it did, and so we don't have
a lot of faith in it."
But if the U.S. Supreme Court were to rule that the U.S. government acted unlawfully,
"then we could sue the U.S. government for unlawful detention."
Any compensation move would have to be made in individual cases because the
circumstances differ, Powell said. "Someone was kidnapped from the Gambia,
others were caught in Afghanistan, someone was stolen from Pakistan," he
said. "And the courts would take one view if someone was known just to
be visiting family, and another if a suspect was known to be a Taliban sympathiser."
In the latter case, he said, "who would be sympathetic to you?"
Unlawful detention raises larger questions of compensation, he said. And this
was true for more people than the 14 held in London without trial for more than
two years in what civil liberty groups have been calling Britain's own Guantanamo
"Suspects are routinely imprisoned for maybe nine months at a time while
they face trial in this country," Powell said. "Then they can be told
the charges are dropped, there is no case against them. Who compensates them?"
Solicitors acting for the five are pressing more immediate matters. Powell
said he had written to the Foreign Office Friday to ask why there was a delay
in releasing the men and for access to them before release. He had asked also
for setting out the terms on which they were being released, and "whether
the release would be only a transfer from one lock- up to another."
The solicitors have asked also for an independent assessment of the physical
and psychological state of the detained men. That could well become the basis
of compensation claims other than those that could arise from detention.
"This whole business is not over by any means," Powell said. "There
are another 650 people there in Guantanamo Bay, and many of them could face
Nor is the campaign for the release of Britons over. Four other British nationals
and three British residents will remain in detention.
The human rights organisation Amnesty said it is pleased over the release of
the five British nationals and one Dane. "We remain concerned, however,
about the fate of all others who continue to be held in Guantanamo, particularly
those who may face trial by military commission."
Amnesty urged governments around the world to make urgent representations on
behalf of those held.
detainees should be afforded their full rights and should either be released
or charged with a recognisably criminal offence and tried in court proceedings
that fully meet international fair trial standards."
Sanjay Suri is Inter Press Service's editor for the Euro-Mediterranean region
and London correspondent. He holds an M.A. in English literature from the University
of Delhi, M.Sc in social and organisational psychology from the London School
of Economics, and did media studies at Stanford University.