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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006, 13:14 GMT
Guantanamo Bay
On Sunday12 March 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Colleen Graffy, US State Department

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Colleen Graffy
Colleen Graffy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

ANDREW MARR: Now the Guantanamo detention centre's back in the news as reports today that the American government is considering closing down the controversial detention centre, more than half the people there have never taken hostile action against the United States according to the Pentagon.

No-one has faced a proper trial, British prisoners now released say they were tortured. International figures such as Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu have been unequivocal in their criticism of the facility and our own Archbishop of Canterbury has been pretty outspoken too.

ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: Any message given that any state can just override some of these basic habeas corpus type provisions is going to be very welcomed tyrants elsewhere in the world, now and in the future.

ANDREW MARR: Tony Blair has called Guantanamo an anomaly, one of his most senior ministers Peter Hain has gone on record to criticise the camp, to indicate that the government thinks it should be shut down.

PETER HAIN: This is not the way to treat suspects and detainees in Guantanamo Bay. We've always said that, consistently, and that remains our position.

ANDREW MARR: And one former Britain detainee at Guantanamo, Moazzem Begg, claims that what he suffered in the camp was inhumane and degrading.

MOAZZEM BEGG: The time in isolation spent away from people, away from anybody except for interrogators and except for soldiers was very, very difficult. And it was a type of mental torture that was very difficult to fight off.

ANDREW MARR: So the pressure's building. To discuss it all I'm joined now by one of the newest members of the Bush Administration, no stranger to London, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Colleen Graffy. Welcome, thank you for coming in.


ANDREW MARR: Looking at all this coverage, friends of the United States, on the same side as the United States, would say that Guantanamo Bay has been one of the biggest PR disasters America has ever suffered. And it should really be closed down as quickly as possible.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: That's absolutely correct. It is a big dilemma for the United States. And one of the largest concerns is based upon the treatment of the detainees. And that's one of the reasons why I went to Guantanamo last week, particularly after the UN report which I thought was a little irresponsible considering they didn't even go down to Guantanamo, nor would they accept a briefing from Washington DC. And I know people will say, well she won't give a good view will she.

But journalists from The Telegraph also went there and wrote a story saying conditions had changed and just recently the OFCE, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation and Europe, went there, came back and said this is, as prison goes, this is better than any prison in Belgium and she saw no reason for it to be closed down immediately and pointed to the humane treatment of the detainees. Now one of the key things that I was looking for when I went there was the interrogation. And what I saw, and we were able to watch by video interrogations taking place.

What I saw was a focus and an emphasis on building a relationship. The head of the interrogation, a woman who said she's been there for over two years, they have to submit a plan before they do an interrogation, and if they even raise their voice it's considered a failure. Because it's all about, and we saw a woman interrogator with the detainees sitting chatting with one another, who's drinking a Coca Cola, building a relationship. And...

ANDREW MARR: I can well understand that after all the criticism and so on, things have changed, and particularly when visitors come it looks all right, but there have been so many stories of torture, abuse, so many people have died in custody over these years, that they can't all be making it up, they're all saying the same thing.

They're telling very vivid stories, we've had it dramatised and we've had it explained to us on television by pretty credible witnesses - the Red Cross as well as the United Nations.


ANDREW MARR: Can I just...


ANDREW MARR: ... the real point is, however, that by America's own figures, 55% of the people there have never offered any kind of threat to the United States or attempted any act against the United States. They should not be there.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Yep. Going to one of your points where it would be changed for visitors. I would just say that is not even possible. If you could see the way can walk around the camp - you can sit down in the cafeteria with anyone, there's someone from the Red Cross, there's the doctors, there's prison guards, you can walk up to anyone and sit down and talk with them. So it would be ...

ANDREW MARR: But the UN, why it wanted to come in a long time ago and weren't allowed in?

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Well they were invited to go down and they refused to go down. And they wrote a report based on nothing more than the views from the lawyers of the detainees.

ANDREW MARR: But that was because they couldn't talk to prisoners on their own, but they said that's not fair.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Yes. So why not go down, meet with the doctors, with the guards, with the interrogators, and still put in the report but we would have liked to have spoken with the detainees. But frankly what would we have learned from that? If the detainee said we're being tortured, you'd say well there's OK there's the Al Queda manual, chapter 18 that the British police discovered in Manchester saying if you're detained claim you were tortured. Or if they're not told they're tortured then they'll say well you detainees were specially chosen.

ANDREW MARR: ... most of them Pakistani farmers, they're not Al Qaeda - but nobody knows they're not.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Well, I would beg to differ with that. We actually went into an evidence room where we saw the individuals they have lockers, holding the evidence of the detainees, and it shows multiple passports, multiple mobile phones, and just stacks of evidence of what they were up to.

And in fact we just have, another thing people don't understand, and you mentioned about people dying. No one has died at Guantanamo, no one. And there were all, a maximum of, well over 10,000 people who were picked up on the battle field. From those less than 800 were brought to Guantanamo, that's less than 490 now.

ANDREW MARR: ...of which 55% have never been a threat to America according to the Pentagon... I mean, that's extraordinary...

COLLEEN GRAFFY: ..I don't know that I agree with that because they are individuals...

ANDREW MARR: These are official figures that came out through the National Law Journal...OK. When it comes to the question of the stacks of evidence and the case against them, everyone around the world says, well put them on trial. I mean they've been there for years.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: I'm glad you brought that up because people do not know that they do have habeas rights and in fact prisoners of war are not entitled to habeas rights - the detainees are. They have a combatant status review tribunal which is automatically reviewed.

ANDREW MARR: No special lawyer?

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Yes, they have, over 360 of them have their, or 370 have their...

ANDREW MARR: Military lawyers were given to them.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: No, no they have their own civilian lawyers. All civilian lawyers that are brought in from ...

ANDREW MARR: What are the client? Are the trials about to start then?

COLLEEN GRAFFY: They have the combatant status review tribunal, it's automatically reviewed. It can be reviewed, sorry, referred to the civil courts in Washington DC, the District Court of Appeal.

ANDREW MARR: Sounds great, but, there have been no trials. After all this time, if there was evidence you could put them on trial and say to the world, this is the evidence we've got, we're doing it openly, judge us, as a proper democratic country.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: Military commission trials are starting now but aside from that you're confusing domestic peacetime criminal law with the laws of war, and this is what's so difficult to get across.

Did you bring Argentinean soldiers to the Old Bailey to be prosecuted? No, because you were holding them under the laws of war. That's another aspect that's so hard to get across.

ANDREW MARR: These people were not lifted and treated under the ordinary rules of war as laid down by the Geneva Convention. And on the other hand, they are not treated as ordinary citizens facing a civil trial. They are in the middle, they are in a very strange position. And they have not been taken to trial.

The point I put to you is that around the world this has become an enormous source of anger. Al Qaeda themselves we know have lots of pictures of Guantanamo in the videos they distribute right around the Islamic world. These are dragon's teeth that you are sowing everywhere to produce the next generation of terrorists.

COLLEEN GRAFFY: I know the dilemma is that these are individuals that want to go out and kill us. If you look at the Guantanamo detainee who's been released in Moscow who was just arrested for trying to blow up a pipeline. You look at the detainee, and these are detainees that we thought were finally convinced that they didn't want to back and fight.

One was released, killed a judge in Afghanistan. Another released killed a Chinese engineer in Pakistan. And then one, just two days ago, who was arrested in Moscow for attempting to blow up an oil pipeline. So there is a dilemma, you're right, in that it doesn't fall neatly under criminal law.

Nor does it fall under the Geneva Conventions because in Geneva Conventions you have countries fighting, and here you have non-state actors who are not trying to engage in any sort of resolution, for example, with domestic terrorists who are looking for rights or land. Here you have individuals that want to kill you for the sake of you being a Westerner.

ANDREW MARR: So where does this end, I mean you've got your most loyal friends and allies, people like Tony Blair, visibly worried about it, talking about, this is an anomaly. For most respected people all saying this has got to stop. When is it going to stop?

COLLEEN GRAFFY: The two things that you need to do is to ensure your friends around the world that they're being treated humanely and that's a hard message to get across. So I just encourage people to look at the facts, for example they don't all wear orange jumpsuits, only 40 of the hardcore Jihadists, the rest who are trying to be co-operative are wearing white jumpsuits, living communally, sharing meals together, they have full access to recreation, volleyball, basketball, backgammon, sports facilities.

The other thing that we need to assure our colleagues and allies about is that they have right of access to the courts, and now there's that, not only the combatant status review tribunal, but also yearly, annually, like a parole board, to ascertain whether these individuals can be released because they don't want to go out and fight. And as you see, we get wrong about 10% of the time.

ANDREW MARR: No promise about this ever closing. Open-ended, the stories today about the British government and the American government starting to talk about how to send people back and close the camp/

COLLEEN GRAFFY: There's continuous discussion about that. Part of the problem is if you return nationals to their country of origin sometimes that will violate the convention against torture because the same problem Britain had with holding foreign terrorists at Belmarsh - you were unable to return them. Well hopefully over the years we'll find a way to either release them to their country of origin or that they declare that they no longer want to kill us.

ANDREW MARR: All right - thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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