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Saturday, 11 January, 2003, 13:58 GMT
No fast track at Guantanamo Bay
Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area at Camp X-Ray
Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area

A year ago the first al-Qaeda suspects arrived at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. They arrived in hoods and shackles, described by the US as the "worst of the worst".

The Bush administration is still holding some 650 prisoners on Guantanamo Bay without charging them, and with no immediate plans to let them go.

Some of my clients are teachers and engineers, and they should at least be allowed an opportunity to present that evidence to some impartial body

Kristine Huskey
Lawyer

The White House refuses to classify them as prisoners of war or give them a trial. As well as large numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis, there are Britons and Australians at the camp.

Conditions at the prison are grim. The detainees have no access to families or lawyers and they are only allowed out of their tiny cells for two 15-minute exercise breaks every week.

During the past year they have been moved from the makeshift Camp X-Ray to Camp Delta. In their new camp they do at least have flushing toilets, but the isolation is even more rigorous.

Few released

A very few have been released from the island. Last October three Afghans were sent home. The US said they were just farmers who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two of them were pensioners in their mid-70s. They did not look like hardened terrorists.

US Army soldier on duty at Guantanamo US Naval Base
US Army soldier on duty at Guantanamo US Naval Base

But even though senior defence officials have told US media off the record that as many as 10% of the prisoners may be innocent, there are simply no plans to let them go.

"Some of my clients are teachers and engineers, and they should at least be allowed an opportunity to present that evidence to some impartial body," said Kristine Huskey, a Washington-based lawyer who represents some of the Kuwaiti detainees.

"Those are the protections we want for our citizens and we should give them to foreign citizens also because it's right, because they're human."

Ms Huskey said her job had become harder because of the lack of interest in the prisoners.

Wide condemnation

When the men were first flown to the base, photographs of them kneeling on the ground in orange jump-suits with blacked-out goggles hiding their vision and their hands tied behind their backs caused an international outcry.

Several countries condemned the United States for failing to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Today, the Guantanamo detainees are largely forgotten. They have disappeared into a legal black hole.

The Bush administration is really not bothered by the human rights criticisms. Its real concern is whether the camp has worked as an interrogation tool.

The prisoners are questioned in a row of hastily constructed plywood huts. There is no torture at Guantanamo Bay but without the carrot of release it is not easy to get information from the men.

"Sometimes it is a very tedious process and it takes a great deal of time sometimes for information to turn out to be fruitful," said Colonel John Perrone, a former joint detention commander at the camp.

There are reports that an al-Qaeda plot to blow up warships in the Straits of Gibraltar was foiled after information was obtained from a detainee in Guantanamo Bay.

It is the island's most high-profile success story. It is not clear whether anything else of significance has been learned from the detainees, nor even whether there are any senior al-Qaeda members among them.

Advocates of the base say the US simply cannot afford to release the men. No one wants to be responsible for letting out someone who later turns out to have played a role in terror attacks.

So long as America sees terrorism as a threat there are likely to be prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

So the men sit there, day after day. It has been a year now. It could well be many more.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

11 Jan 03 | Americas
28 Nov 02 | Archive
27 Feb 02 | Americas
21 Jan 02 | Politics
10 Sep 02 | England
08 Feb 02 | Americas
24 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
02 Dec 02 | Americas
29 Oct 02 | South Asia
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