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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Pressure grows on Guantanamo Bay
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Guantanamo Bay prisoner praying
Inmate praying - the debate on the camp's future is somewhat on hold

The adverse reaction to a claim by a senior US official that the suicides of three Guantanamo Bay detainees was a "good PR move" adds to the growing international pressure for the camp to be closed.

The comment was made by Colleen Graffy, deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, and reflected what the camp commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris had said about the suicides being "an act of warfare waged against us".

However, Ms Graffy's remark was shortly afterwards disowned by another official, Cully Stimson, deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Detainee Affairs who said: "I wouldn't characterise it is as a good PR move."

In the world of public diplomacy that is quite a putdown.

Previous form

Colleen Graffy, formerly a professor of law at Pepperdine University, has been known to go in for combative debate before.

In an e-mail exchange with Kate Allen of Amnesty International UK, published in 2004 by the UK newspaper the Guardian, she said: "In the Second World War, Americans and Britons who were captured were held until the end of hostilities. They were not read rights or given a dime to call their lawyer.

"International law has not caught up with the problems posed by the current threat of terrorism. One being, how do we deal with non-state actors such as al-Qaeda who have not signed the Geneva Convention nor have any desire to abide by it?"


The confused reaction of American officials probably reflects the overall uncertainty surrounding the future of Guantanamo Bay.

In the Second World War, Americans and Britons who were captured were held until the end of hostilities. They were not read rights or given a dime to call their lawyer
Colleen Graffy
The camp is at crisis point internationally, with even the Americans' close ally Britain now openly calling for the camp to be closed.

The language of British ministers has noticeably hardened against the camp. Harriett Harman, the Constitutional Affairs Minister and herself politically close to Mr Blair, said after the suicides: "It is in a legal no man's land. Either it should be moved to America and then they can hold these people under the American justice system or it should be closed."

The European Union's External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: "Guantanamo should be closed."

It was no surprise that the Guardian newspaper should say that "the demented logic of Dr Strangelove hung like a ghost" over the US reaction.

But the Times of London, normally a supporter of US foreign policy, was also critical, saying that President Bush, having indicated that he would like to close the camp, "needs to be much clearer about when, and how".

All eyes on Supreme Court

The "when" and the "how" are currently awaiting a crucial ruling by the US Supreme Court. After that judgement, which is expected by the end of this month, things should become clearer.

In the meantime, the debate within the United States about the future of the camp has been put somewhat on hold.

The case, Hamdan v Rumsfeld, was brought against the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by Salid Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama Bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.

Mr Hamdan is challenging the right of the US authorities at Guantanamo Bay to try him in front of a military commission or tribunal. He is accused of conspiracy to commit attacks on civilians and terrorism.

He says he was simply a driver who had to earn a living for his family.

Legal proceedings

Mr Hamdan had success in the first legal outing, in the US District Court in Washington, which ruled that he could not face a military commission unless he had previously been found not to be a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention.

He claims POW status, but like all camp prisoners, he is denied this and is described as an "unlawful combatant" instead.

However, a court of appeals reversed this decision and said that the president had authority - notably under a congressional resolution passed after 9/11 allowing him to prosecute the war against al-Qaeda - to order military commissions.

The Supreme Court ruling therefore will determine the way forward. If military commissions are allowed, then prisoners like Salid Ahmed Hamdan (ten have been charged) will be tried by them and sentenced if found guilty.

What would happen to the others is not clear.

That would not satisfy critics of the system (the sentences might even be longer than waiting until the end of the "war on terror").

If commissions are held to be unlawful, pressure on President Bush to radically change the legal status of the detainees would only increase. There might even be political pressure for him to close the camp and blame the Supreme Court. Most prisoners might be returned home and only a few detained, whose future would be argued out in the courts.


Hear the US lawyer's claims

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