21 January 2007

Black hole or vital tool? More on Guantanamo, Hicks etc

The question comes from a recent BBC report. A partial answer has been provided by today's report from a delegation of British goverment MPs

MPs who have visited Guantanamo Bay have called on Britain and the international community to do more to help the US close the camp.Seven Foreign Affairs Committee members visited the detention centre for "enemy combatants" in Cuba in September. In a report they were critical of the conditions there, but said many inmates posed a threat and the world needed to find a "longer term solution". Opposition MPs and human rights groups called the report "disappointing".

The chairman of the committee, Mike Gapes, told BBC News: "The problem is if you closed it straight away what do you do with the people that are there? Some of them no doubt could be released - sent back to their country of origin and be of no threat to anyone. But there are people there that are dangerous people...The international community as a whole needs to look at finding a longer-term solution."

The MPs spent only one day at the camp and had no direct access to detainees. Their report says food was plentiful, medical care good and the facilities broadly comparable with a British maximum security prison.But they said the camp did not meet UK guidelines for recreation and education facilities nor for access to the media, lawyers and the outside world.One area apparently was closed for repair after detainees had been found dismantling the plumbing to make weapons.Electric lighting was kept on 24 hours a day. Some detainees were reported to be clinically obese; two were being force-fed and 20% had some psychiatric condition (emphasis added).

The MPs said prisoner abuse had "almost certainly" happened there but the added that this was "unlikely to be taking place now".

And in Australia...The Age puts the report into an Australian context, following on from earlier statements that Foreign Minister Downer had relied upon a cursory assessment made by a US diplomat without medical expertise following a three minute or five minute visit (depending whether you read The Age or The Australian). Having weighed up the evidence thus obtained Mr Downer has expressed the opinion, as The Age states, that " there was no suggestion that David Hicks was suffering from mental illness".

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