British Guantanamo Prisoners Released, Criticism Remains | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 10.03.2004
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British Guantanamo Prisoners Released, Criticism Remains

Five British prisoners held at the U.S. prison camp on Guantanamo Bay will arrive in the U.K. today. Their return won't heal the rift between Europe and the U.S. on the controversial camp.


Floating in legal limbo, a prisoner contemplates his future at Guantanamo Bay.

After months of intense lobbying on both the legal and diplomatic level, the United States released five men held since late 2001 in a heavily controversial prison on Guantanamo Bay.

The five, who range in age from 20 to 35, are expected to touch down in London some time Tuesday, according to reports. British prosecutors will then decide if there is any evidence to hold them as suspected terrorists. Legal analysts and rights groups, however, expect their release.

Washington's decision to let the five go comes amid growing public pressure both in the U.S. and abroad to take some sort of action on the more than 600 suspected Islamic fundamentalists being held without charge or access to lawyers at the prison camp. Among those 600 are an estimated 20 Europeans, including the German-born Murat Kurnaz.

"If there is evidence, then they should be charged," said Reinhard Docke, Kurnaz's German lawyer who was in Washington D.C. to join other protestors on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. "But then in front of a court that adheres to international standards of justice."

"A demonstration of arrogance"

The plea is one that has been made in Europe virtually since the prison camp's inception following America's 2001 military

Taliban Gefangene in Guantanamo

A Taliban prisoner wrapped in thin sheets, no name available, looks through the bars at a prison in the town of Shiberghan, 120 km (75 miles) west of Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002. As attention focuses on conditions for the international Taliban prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prisoners at the Afghan-run Shiberghan prison in northern Afghanistan are grateful when they see bread.

operation in Afghanistan. From the beginning, the Bush administration refused to classify the camp detainees as "prisoners of war", denying them the privileges enjoyed by prisoners under the Geneva Convention. Washington reaped a wave of criticism for the stance, also from EU heads-of-state.

Guantanamo "is a demonstration of arrogance that only strengthens the feeling that the U.S. behaves itself however it wants," Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said last year.

Human Rights Watch, in a report at the beginning of this year, took aim at the legal limbo in which the detainees found themselves. The Bush administration's ignorance of legal standards, the organization wrote, would undermine "hard fought gains in international law and protections for basic human rights."

Pressure to appease major allies

But growing pressure on the administration for its handling of the detainees, more than two years after their capture, and a desire to appease major allies have begun to change Washington's tune.

At the beginning of March, the U.S. handed over seven Russian detainees to Moscow, the largest transfer since the establishment of the camp. Last fall, the government released three children, between the ages of 13 and 15, who had been held on the island prison.

Though the release of the five British nationals has been welcomed, British organizations continue to pressure for the release of the four remaining U.K. citizens being held at Guantanamo. Britain's Home Secretary, in Washington Monday and Tuesday, told reporters they would most likely remain there and go before U.S. military tribunals.

No news from the "German Taliban"

Murat Kurnaz, who was 19 when he was arrested near the Pakistani-Afghan border in 2001, also remains on the island. The Turkish citizen, who was born and raised in the German harbor city Bremen hasn't been allowed contact with his family for more than a year, said his mother Rabiye.

Rabiye Kurnaz Mutter von Guantanamo Häftling

Rabiye Kurnaz, mother of German Guantanamo Bay detainee Murat Kurnaz, wipes away tears during a meeting of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, at the Houses of Parliament, London, Friday March 5, 2004. Members of the newly formed commission and families of European terrorist suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay will travel to the United States next week to lobby President George W. Bush for the release of their relatives. (AP Photo/John D McHugh)

"I'm very concerned about his well-being," Raibye Kurnaz (photo) told DW-RADIO at the Washington protest march.

The German government, though lobbying initially on Kurnaz's behalf, has had its hands tied because Kurnaz is not a German citizen. German terrorism officials have said Kurnaz headed to Pakistan in October 2001 to attend a Quran school, but they doubt he was involved in any fighting in Afghanistan.

Docke, Kuranz's lawyer, said he was meeting with U.S. and French lawyers in Washington in order to file a suit against the United States on behalf of his client.

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  • Date 10.03.2004
  • Author DW Staff (dre)
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  • Date 10.03.2004
  • Author DW Staff (dre)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink