Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Britain's Guantanmo

The American disease is spreading: now the UK is holding 80 to 90 people in indefinite detention without trial in Afghanistan

The UK is holding up to 90 Afghan nationals in a facility at Camp Bastion, the Defence Secretary has revealed as lawyers claim unlawful detention of the prisoners.

UK lawyers acting for some of the men said their clients had been held for up to 14 months without charge and compared the revelations to when the public became aware of Guantanamo Bay. They are campaigning for the UK High Court to free them but Philip Hammond has denied that the men were being held illegally, claiming that detentions in Afghanistan are legal under the UN mandate.

But the question isn't whether its legal under the UN mandate - it is whether it is legal under UK law. The UK's Human Rights Act includes the right to be free from arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial, and there is caselaw from the Iraq war making it clear that those rights apply to everything done by British government, no matter where in the world it does it. Which highlights the key difference from Guantanamo: this is not a "legal black hole", beyond the reach of the courts. And it speaks volumes about the government's case that they tried to keep this secret and held these men incommunicado without access to lawyers in an effort to prevent exactly this sort of legal challenge.